By Katie Field at Murrayfield
In a nutshell
LAST TIME Scotland won two Six Nations matches on the bounce, Greig Laidlaw was 15 years old. That was in 2001, since when Scotland have only won more than one match in a Six Nations season three times, most recently in 2006. But all those gloomy memories were cast aside as Laidlaw kicked four penalties to sneak a hard-fought victory over an Ireland side that had enough chances to win this match twice over, but butchered them. Add this win to the victory over Italy two weeks ago, and Scotland have a reason to celebrate.
Scotland scrummaged strongly and won the lineout contest, but it was Ireland who were making the line breaks and creating the chances. However, the Scots’ scramble defence kept the visitors at bay and they had the heart to battle on, even when they were down to 14 men after Ryan Grant was sin-binned in the first quarter.
Ireland had almost all the territory and possession in the first half but shunned a couple of kickable penalties and so didn’t trouble the scorers until the 35thminute, when Paddy Jackson finally opened his Test rugby account with a penalty. The visitors added a Craig Gilroy try soon after the break, but Scotland gradually got a grip on the game as referee Wayne Barnes started penalising Ireland at the breakdowns.
Laidlaw made the chances count and Scotland took the lead for the first time after 63 minutes when he slotted his third penalty. Ireland were not about to surrender and they made Scotland fight to the death, but with their supporters roaring them on, the Scots prevailed.
Ireland spent the whole game wasting chances but were still in the hunt in stoppage time, trailing by just four points. Scotland conceded a penalty at a scrum close to their own line and Ireland ran it, but Luke Marshall was unable to gather a high ball as they swept towards the line and that was the last act of a frustrating day for Ireland, and the beginning of some noisy Scottish celebrations.
Scotland lock Jim Hamilton had an immense game, ruling the lineout, getting up a head of steam in attack and grafting in defence. As Scotland coach Scott Johnson says: “He does things awkwardly. He is not everyone’s cup of tea in Scotland but luckily the coaching staff drink coffee.”
Geoff Cross also earned plaudits from his coach and captain for his role in making the scrummage a strength for Scotland.
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Jim Hamilton – The giant Scot made a real nuisance of himself and Ireland must have been glad to see him replaced for the final ten minutes.
Luke Marshall – Ireland’s debutant centre cut through the Scotland line on several occasions and was the joint top-tackler for the visitors. He made a couple of errors but it was still a bright start to his Test career.
Kelly Brown – Another immense performance from the Scotland skipper, putting in crucial tackles and making cool-headed decisions which enabled his team to make the most of their chances.
Sean O’Brien – The Ireland flanker was a force at the breakdown and was prominent in open play, making 22 carries.
Keith Earls – Switched from centre in the last game to wing in this, Earls was an attacking threat and had Scotland scrambling to cover his breaks
Jamie Heaslip – He was Ireland’s joint top-tackler with five, but his leadership skills must be called into question as he instructed Paddy Jackson to kick for territory rather than the posts on several occasions, which meant Ireland did not turn their pressure into points.
Ireland had 77% of the territory and 71% of possession and forced Scotland to concede 16 penalties to their own 13. The visitors also won 106 rucks and mauls compared to Scotland’s 29 – in fact the only areas Scotland came out on top were the lineout, where they stole three from Ireland, and the final scoreboard!
Scott Johnson: “We took our opportunities and they didn’t take theirs. That was the sole difference. My neck was getting sore from looking down one end of the pitch. We had a massive penalty count against us and a massive territory against us and lost a sin-bin as well, but we fought.”
Kelly Brown: “We are a side that will always fight and scrap and if a team is going to get anything off us we are going to make them work very, very hard for it.”
Jamie Heaslip: “We held onto the ball for long phases and it’s disappointing that we couldn’t come away with any points. It’s another close game, another missed opportunity.”
Pens: Greig Laidlaw 4
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Try: Craig Gilroy
Pen: Paddy Jackson