Rugby Union: Hastings thrives on captaincy

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Scotland. . .15

Ireland. . . .3

BEFORE the start of this match, Gavin Hastings, Scotland's new captain, had bridled at the suggestion that it was between the no-hopers, the teams that would prop up this season's national championship while the game at Twickenham would decide matters at the other end of the table. Yet the game did just that.

Judged by the way the Scots took control and dominated the Irish most phases of play, they are going to be a force this season. They scored two tries to none and had comfortably the majority of the game. No one can relish travelling to the modern Murrayfield, where Scotland seemed able to play if not above themselves then at least to the limit of their ability.

'It was nice to see some of the things we have devised coming off' said Ian McGeechan, the Scotland coach. 'We are not yet the finished article, but this was a benchmark for the rest of the season.'

Ireland, on the other hand are in desperate straits. If this display was anything to go by they are clear favourites for this year's wooden spoon, extending their disastrous recent record. Since they won the Triple Crown in 1985 they have won only five of their 31 games and they have now gone for 12 games in the championship without a victory.

Scotland are neat, tidy and well-organised, as you would expect from a side prepared by McGeechan, who was a neat, tidy and well-organised player. Their forwards were well-drilled, their half-backs authoritative and dangerous, their wing fast and aggressive. At the line-out they annihilated Ireland, winning nearly three times more ball.

Behind all this was Gavin Hastings. Just as he had against Western Samoa in the World Cup, he immediately showed that he wanted to intimidate the opposition physically. Again and again he entered the line, relishing the obvious challenge, and after a while the roar of the crowd increased noticably every time he touched the ball.

In 1966 Michael Campbell-Lamerton led the British Lions in New Zealand. It was not a successful tour and Campbell-Lamerton a Scot, was nicknamed Captain Calamitous. Hastings is Captain Courageous. He didn't kick badly either, landing two kicks out of four on a day when a fierce wind was swirling around the ground, plucking paperbags and sweet papers from spectators' hands and whisking them out on to the pitch.

What Ireland do now is a matter for conjecture. Noel Murphy, their manager, made a valid point afterwards when trying to come to grips with it all. 'We used to have men in key positions who always did the right thing,' he said. 'We do not have any such men anymore.'

The indomitable Irish spirit flickered intermittently among the forwards. They profited several times from fiery drives from their No 8 Noel Mannion, supported by Denis McBride and Phil Lawlor. Captain or not, Michael Bradley is not an outstanding scrum-half. Given a poor service and with very limited ball, even the promising Niall Malone at stand-off could do little. Furthermore, he missed four kicks out of five attempts.

Much of the second half was dominated by the referee's whistle which may have been due to the difficulty of playing rugby on such a windy day. Yet there was at least one occasion when Mr Morrison might have played advantage and everyone would have been grateful. He penalised Ireland for lifting at a line-out when Craig Chalmers had the ball in his hands was about to do something positive with it.

Scotland scored as early as the second minute when Ireland fell offside. Gary Armstrong held the ball upright in the wind and his captain stroked it between the posts. Moments later the Scots took an indirect free-kick from which Armstrong moved the ball left into a posse of forwards and Andrew Reed, a lock who did not seem to be overawed on his first appearance for Scotland, threw a tidy pass out to Derek Stark.

The fastest man on the field needed no bidding. He had space in front of him and time to get up ahead of steam. He burst past Simon Geoghegan's tackle to score in the corner. The Scots were pleased, supporters of Ireland were devastated - it was sloppy defence. 'That try should never have happened in an international arena,' said Murphy.

Scotland's second try was not dissimilar in that it was a move that went left and found another hole in Ireland's defence. This time it started at a ruck and Stark gave the move some impetus before floating a high pass out to Tony Stanger who darted to the corner. Phil Danaher and Richard Wallace were both there but neither could stop him.

The second half was a formless, stop-start and whistle-dominated passage. Scotland had little incentive given that they led so comfortably; Ireland did not have enough skill. Malone's penalty was their only score. It was a sad day for them and unless they improve there will be many more.

SCOTLAND: G Hastings (Watsonians, capt); A Stanger (Hawick), S Hastings (Watsonians), G Shiel (Melrose), D Stark (Boroughmuir); C Chalmers (Melrose), G Armstrong (Jed-Forest); A Watt (Glasgow High/Kelvinside), K Milne (Heriot's FP), P Burnell (London Scottish), A Reed (Bath), D Cronin (London Scottish), D Turnbull (Hawick), I Morrison (London Scottish), G Weir (Melrose).

IRELAND: C Wilkinson; S Geoghegan (both London Irish), V Cunningham (St Mary's College), P Danaher, R Wallace (both Garryowen); N Malone (Oxford University), M Bradley (Cork Constitution, capt); N Popplewell (Greystones), S Smith (Ballymena), P McCarthy (Cork Constitution), R Costello (Garryowen), P Johns (Dungannon), P Lawlor (Bective Rangers), D McBride (Malone), N Mannion (Lansdowne).

Referee: E Morrison (Eng).

Scorers: G Hastings (pen, 2 min, 3-0); Stark/G Hastings (try/conv, 10 min, 10-0); Stanger (try, 38 min, 15-0); Malone (pen, 60 min, 15-3).

(Photograph omitted)