Rugby union: Case of Tait and style

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The Independent Online
Scotland 38 Ireland 10

Tries: Tait 30, Walton 56 Tries: Hickie 24

Weir 66, Townsend 77 Pens: Humphreys 61

Stanger 80 Con: Humphreys 24

Pens: Shepherd 48

Cons: Shepherd 30, 56

66, 77, 80

When Rob Wainwright and his men made their retreat from Twickenham a month ago, it was suggested on Radio Scotland that the Scottish Rugby Union should consider administering a selective breeding programme.

The genetic doppelgangering of Dolly was carried out within kicking distance of Murrayfield which just happened to coincide with the appointment of Andy Irvine and Ian McLauchlan to the new executive board of the SRU. But in windswept Edinburgh yesterday it took the reappearance of a more recent old boy, and in his original form, to spark the victory that means the Scots will not be treading sheepishly to Paris in a fortnight in expectation of a whitewash.

Alan Tait celebrated his return from the rugby league ranks by scoring the first of the five tries which not only blew away Ireland but some of the cobwebs of a year's stagnation with a record points score and a record margin of victory by the Scots against their celtic cousins.

The former Kelso centre was also instrumental in the setting up of late tries for Gregor Townsend and Tony Stanger and had the satisfaction of seeing his Newcastle colleagues Peter Walton and Doddie Weir claim the other Scottish tries. He even got his hands on some silverware, the Century Quaich for which the two countries have fought for eight years being presented in public for the first time.

It was by no means a one-man revivalist show, as Richie Dixon, Scotland's coach, was quick to point out when asked about the impact made by the 32-year-old in his first union international for nine years. "He was just one of 15 players," Dixon said. It was more that Tait's presence helped the pieces of the previously disparate Scottish jigsaw fall into place.

By the final whistle the Scots behind the scrum were in rampant form, reminiscent of the England of old and the "Scottish Power" placards in the stands were reflected by the burgeoning home pack on the field. Amid the cocktail of euphoria and relief, though, it was just as well to remember that the men in green who took the field yesterday did not include Simon Geoghegan, Eric Miller, Eric Elwood, Nick Popplewell and Keith Wood - and that a trio of key players, Jim Staples, Kurt McQuilkin and Brian O'Meara, were added to the casualty list in the course of 80 damaging minutes for Ireland. "It's no excuse at all," Brian Ashton, the Ireland coach, maintained. "I was disappointed almost to the point of embarrassment in the second half." The five tries conceded yesterday left Ireland's deficit for the championship at 18.

Such a sorry conclusion to Ashton's debut season as a Five Nations coach seemed unlikely when, after a fumbling opening quarter by both teams, Ireland scored with a sublime bolt out of the blue. The blue shirts were pinning the Irish into their 22 when Staples cut a glorious green swathe through them, racing up the right touchline and chipping ahead for Denis Hickie to claim his second try in three internationals. Maybe the visitors should have feared the worst, though, as Staples, having pulled up clutching his right hamstring in pursuit of his kick, was carried on a stretcher towards what for him have become the familiar surroundings of the treatment room. The Harlequins full-back launched his international career with an injury, damaging an arm on a water-sprinkler in the act of scoring on his debut at Cardiff Arms Park six years ago. If the Ireland captain carries through his threat to retire before the start of next season the story of his injury-plagued international career will at least have matching book- ends.

Perhaps it was just as well that Staples, who partnered Arsenal's Ian Wright in Greenwich Borough's forward line in his former sporting life, missed the damage that followed. Tait broke through on the half-hour after the bullocking Tom Smith left him within five yards of the Irish line. Then, with the Scottish pack gathering momentum towards the end of the third quarter, first Walton, who propped for England as a Colt, and Weir, a veritable colossus again in the line-out yesterday, charged over from five-metre scrums. The path was clear for Tait and his fellow backs to cut loose in the closing stages. They did so in style, Townsend and Stanger scoring from moves that might have been cloned from the southern hemisphere top drawer.

Scotland: R Shepherd (Melrose); A Stanger (Hawick), A Tait (Newcastle), G Townsend (Northampton), K Logan (Stirling County); C Chalmers (Melrose), B Redpath (Melrose); T Smith (Watsonians), G Ellis (Currie), M Stewart (Northampton), G Weir (Newcastle), A Reed (Wasps), R Wainwright (Watsonians, capt), P Walton (Newcastle), I Smith (Moseley).

Ireland: J Staples (Harlequins, capt); D Hickie (St Mary's College), M Field (Malone), K McQuilkin (Lansdowne), J Bell (Northampton); D Humphreys (London Irish), B O'Meara (Cork Constitution); P Flavin (Blackrock College), R Nesdale (Newcastle), P Wallace (Saracens), P Johns (Saracens), J Davidson (London Irish), D Corkery (Bristol), B Cronin (Garryowen) D McBride (Malone).

Replacements: C O'Shea (London Irish) for Staples, 24; S McIvor (Garryowen) for O'Meara, 67.

Referee: G Simmonds (Wales).