Hastings sharp to exploit chance

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The Independent Online
Scotland 26 Ireland13

If this is the second division then the Five Nations' Championship is in good hands. Scotland, and Gavin Hastings, finally delivered in a game that may not have scored impressively on artistic merit but earned full marks for entertainment.

"It was a wonderful experience even for an old man like me," the 33-year-old Hastings said. The Scotland captain, ostentatiously drinking Highland Spring - whatever Hastings earns in endorsements goes into a team pool - was in good form on and off the field. "My back troubled me all the way through the game," he said, facetiously. This was one in the eye from Hastings.

On the occasion of winning a record 53rd cap, Hastings said he was keyed up when Dougie Morgan, the coach, handed him the No 15 jersey. Morgan, clearly a suitable case for treatment, had tears in his eyes. Hastings also received a card from Colin Deans who, with Jim Renwick, had held the record with 52 appearances.

Twelve months ago Hastings looked ponderous, an impending advertisement for a Highland retirement home. He looked a lot sharper on Saturday and played a crucial role in an unorthodox match, landing six kicks out of eight to pass 500 points in his international career. "Poor Burke," Hastings said. "He didn't get the breaks early on."

Paul Burke, the young Ireland stand-off, was successful with one kick out of five. "The reason we lost is not because we missed penalties but because we gave them away," Michael Bradley, the captain, said. He was being kind to Burke.

By half-time Scotland, with three Hastings penalties, led 9-8. Considering the state of play it was a ludicrous scoreline. It had been all Ireland and they should have had a lot more to show for it than a try from Brendan Mullin, a rare survivor from Ireland's last victory at Murrayfield in 1985, and a Burke penalty.

At half-time Hastings talked to his team about being patient. "We're a young side with a lot of players new to Five Nations rugby," he said. "As the game went on we grew in confidence." No sooner had Hastings finished his team talk than Ireland scored a cracking try. Bradley chose to run a free-kick and Jonathan Bell was given sufficient room on the left wing to put Ireland ahead once again, 13-9.

From that point there was almost a complete reversal of roles. Scotland monopolised possession and when Hastings chipped to the left-hand corner Simon Geoghegan tackled Kenny Logan when the Scottish wing was not in possession. Most referees would probably have blown on the spot but Derek Bevan, in a brilliant example of playing advantage, let events run their course and Craig Joiner was first to the ball as it rolled over the Irish line.

Damian Cronin, a born-again lock forward, scored Scotland's second try midway through the second half after intense forward pressure and,with Hastings finding the sweet spot with virtually every kick, Ireland suddenly found themselves in a hopeless position.

Cronin, who scored Scotland's only try against Canada a few weeks earlier, is known as Del Boy, because he has become something of a French Lovejoy in terms of business and now plays for Bourges in the second division. In two weeks' time, when Scotland play France in Paris, Cronin should be able to offer a valuable service to Scotland as a fifth columnist.

Playing for Scotland, who had lost nine matches in a row prior to Canada, Cronin is used to second division rugby but if the Scots proved anything on Saturday it is that they can play for 80 minutes. "There is more to come from this side," Morgan said. "We set out to play a particular way. . ." If Ireland had a plan it was not apparent. Full of running in the first half, they were legless for most of the second.

Gerry Murphy, the coach, would not subscribe to the impression that Ireland were simply not as fit as their opponents. "Players are always fitter when you're going forward," Murphy said. "We lost because we didn't get enough ball in the second half. I don't know why. Perhaps it was a lack of concentration."

Ireland had already made wholesale changes following the defeat by England and they will have to make more. Shannon, by far the best team, had only one representative here and they have at least two obvious contenders in full-back Pat Murray and opensideflanker Eddie Halvey. They also, of course, have the option of recalling Eric Elwood for the unfortunate Burke.

Scotland: Tries Cronin, Joiner; Conversions Hastings 2; Penalties Hastings 4. Ireland: Tries Bell, Mullin. Penalty Burke.

Scotland: G Hastings (Watsonians, capt); C Joiner (Melrose), G Townsend (Gala), I Jardine (Stirling County), K Logan (Stirling County); C Chalmers (Melrose), B Redpath (Melrose); D Hilton (Bath), K Milne (Heriot's FP), P Wright (Boroughmuir), D Cronin (Bourges), S Campbell (Dundee HSFP), R Wainwright (West Hartlepool), I Morrison (London Scottish), E Peters (Bath).

Ireland: C O'Shea (Lansdowne); S Geoghegan (Bath), B Mullin (Blackrock College), P Danaher (Garryowen), J Bell (Ballymena); P Burke (Cork Constitution), M Bradley (Cork Constitution, capt); N Popplewell (Wasps), K Wood (Garryowen), P Clohessy (Young Munster), P Johns (Dungannon), G Fulcher (Cork Constitution), A Foley (Shannon), D McBride (Malone), B Cronin (Garryowen).

Referee: D Bevan (Wales).