Rugby Union / Five Nations' Championship: Kickers find the answer is blowing in the wind: Tryless but not for want of trying

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Ireland . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .6

Scotland. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .6

THEY came, they swore, they squandered. Scotland went the way of almost everybody else intent on a clean weekend in the Fair City. Perhaps a draw was the fairest result in a match in which goal-kicking once again wrote the footnotes. Both countries had clearly had enough of a one-point defeat and a one-point victory.

Two penalties each, one point each in the championship; tryless but not for the want of trying. The answer to the outcome was blowing in the wind, a wind strong enough to disconcert the line- out throwers, the jumpers, the kickers, even contact lenses.

The summary is that Scotland played magnificently into the gale in the first half and Ireland, who won the toss, were at their perverse best when the wind flared their nostrils in the second half. When Ireland led by only 3-0 at half-time, Irish eyes were blinking. Simon Geoghegan, more electric than an eel, had to leave the field to get his contact lenses put back in place, as did Conor O'Shea.

Ireland should play Geoghegan, the scorer of the only try in their one-point victory over England, in the pack, preferably in the front row. At least that would ensure that he is closer to the ball. To describe Geoghegan as supercharged would be to leave him several volts short of lightning. The fair-haired wonder is currently bigger box office in Dublin than Jack Charlton.

Eric Elwood (slow hands, quick feet) began kicking at goal off a mound of sand with the ball held by his partner Michael Bradley (slow hands, poorer feet).

Elwood somehow left his penalty short. And again. He kicked the sand, in disgust, with more vigour than he had kicked the ball. It was 20 minutes before he struck a kick of any description with proper timing and when he had another chance at goal he kicked the sand into touch and used the horseshoe tee, a relatively modern device. The ball went over the bar, but then he missed again and when O'Shea, who plays for Elwood's club, Lansdowne, hit an upright Ireland were in big trouble.

In first-half injury time, Gavin Hastings went off injured after colliding with Gary Armstrong's forehead. The Scotland captain had four metal staples inserted above an eye (stitches are unfashionable) and returned with a head bandage - somebody asked him if it was sponsored - just in time to drop the ball. His brother, Scott, saved his blushes and after Elwood and O'Shea got into a mix-up, Gavin kicked a penalty to make it 3-3.

He kicked another soon after to make it 6-3. Scotland went over the top, the referee did not penalise them and it would have been a scrum to Ireland but for Brian Robinson's protest to Ed Morrison. Here's to you Mr Robinson was Scotland's response but despite their apparent superiority up front and at half-back, despite their lead and despite the wind at their backs, they drew a blank, Elwood kicking a second penalty.

It brings us back to goal- kicking. Had Elwood not hit the woodwork against Wales and had O'Shea not hit the woodwork against Scotland, Ireland could have won the Triple Crown. But then England hit the posts twice against Ireland. On Saturday, Morrison did his best to play advantage but the laws do not help. There are penalisable offences virtually every time one forward comes into contact with another.

Enter Elwood and the new science. He began by teeing up the ball with sand not because he prefers it but because the ball was a Mitre. Had it been a Gilbert or a Wallaby he would have done things differently. There is something not quite right here, as an expert witness will now testify. Remember the optimistic five-point try? Now it is remember the try. Ollie Campbell, an outstanding Irish goalkicker, has a radical solution: 'Make the penalty five points and the try three,' he said. 'It sounds a bit Irish but it would stop people giving so many penalties away.' On top of that, you could put the uprights closer together.

Ireland now prepare for a tour to Australia and two Tests. It is all too much, according to their management team. Internationals, leagues, cups and, between Ireland and Scotland, a provinces versus districts programme. Next year the World Cup. 'The human body can only take so much,' Noel Murphy said. The treasurers, like the kickers, cannot take enough.

Ireland: Penalties Elwood 2. Scotland: Penalties G Hastings 2.

IRELAND: C O'Shea (Lansdowne); R Wallace (Garryowen), M Field (Malone), P Danaher (Garryowen), S Geoghegan (London Irish); E Elwood (Lansdowne), M Bradley (Cork Constitution, capt); N Popplewell (Greystones), T Kingston (Dolphin), P Clohessy (Young Munster), M Galwey (Shannon), N Francis (Old Belvedere), B Robinson (Ballymena), D McBride (Malone), P Johns (Dungannon).

SCOTLAND: G Hastings (Watsonians, capt); A Stanger (Hawick), S Hastings (Watsonians), D Wyllie (Stewart's / Melville FP), K Logan (Stirling County); G Townsend (Gala), G Armstrong (Jed-Forest); A Sharp (Bristol), K Milne (Heriot's FP), P Burnell (London Scottish), S Munro (Glasgow High / Kelvinside), A Reed (Bath), P Walton (Northampton), I Smith (Gloucester), G Weir (Melrose).

Referee: E Morrison (England).

(Statistics omitted)