Rugby Union: Ireland's frailties revealed in Stark relief

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Scotland. .15

Ireland. . .3

THE great thing about the Five Nations' Championship was its unpredictability but Ireland have lost so much ground, and so many matches, that at customs the first thing they declare is their inferiority complex. Once upon a time it was genius. An air of inevitability swept through Murrayfield and Scotland duly complied.

'We have had so many new dawns it's almost replaced the Celtic twilight,' Gerry Murphy, the new coach of Ireland, said. Ireland should be grateful that the competition has no relegation. Scotland scored two excellent tries and established a 15-0 lead down the gale at half-time. Take away the punctuation of the tries and you were left with an exceedingly boring composition.

'It was one of the most satisfying performances I have ever seen,' Ian McGeechan, the Scotland coach, said. This is a man who is easily satisfied. He must have been talking in the context of Scotland's dire trial. 'It's the set pieces that matter and we had control of them,' he said.

Ireland could barely win a line- out and nowadays there are so many of them it meant that when they actually got their hands on the ball they had no idea what to do with it.

Scotland had a game plan. Damian Cronin led the pack and Iain Morrison at the tail called the line-outs. Whether it was two- man, four-man or eight, Doddie Weir or Andy Reed won possession. Ireland did not have a pack- leader as such. Michael Bradley, the captain and scrum-half, was in sole charge and he had his hands full dealing, unsuccessfully, with his opposite number, Gary Armstrong. Bradley was attempting to implement his best-laid plans through Steve Smith, the hooker. 'It was never going to work,' a weary and cynical Irish observer said. 'Bradley is a Roman Catholic from Cork and Smith a Protestant Unionist from Ulster.'

Ireland, would you believe, won the toss and chose to play into a wind so strong it nearly blew the drumsticks out of the hands of the drummers of the regimental band of the First Batallion, the Royal Scots. The Princess Royal, Scotland's patron, chose, perhaps out of sympathy, to wear a green overcoat. The band played about two bars of the National Anthem before clearing their lungs for a fuller version of 'Flower of Scotland'.

Points on such a day were going to be hard-earned, but Scotland could not believe their luck. Not only did Ireland make the mistake of beginning a difficult season by facing a Shetland-force gale, they gave Derek Stark the impression that international rugby can be fun. With his first touch Stark, who should have been counting the butterflies in his stomach, swept past Simon Geoghegan, who made the fatal mistake of turning his back on his opponent. Stark staring madness.

Scotland's second try brought a bit more out of Stark and a bit more out of Geoghegan. Gavin Hastings came into the line as decoy, Stark burst through the middle and, as he was tackled by Geoghegan, flighted a long and clever pass to Tony Stanger, the right wing, who crossed the Irish line in the left hand corner, just as Stark had done earlier on.

That try, just before half-time, put the result beyond reasonable doubt. 'They had enough in hand not to cruise but to not be panicky,' Noel Murphy, the Ireland manager, said. 'The first try should never have happened in an international arena. We always had players who did the right thing, but no longer. We have to look for them.'

Ireland, always desperately trying to make bricks by clutching at straws, sought refuge in the fact that they won the second half 3-0. 'Our tackling around the fringes was appalling,' Murphy said. 'Scotland were allowed to ruck from offside positions. Scotland made far better use of the wind than we did and their key players performed exceptionally well.' Murphy was talking about the Hastings brothers, Weir and Armstrong. Of the latter, he said: 'Bradley was niggled at by a very clever scrum-half. Our line-out was disappointing, but there are other line-out forwards in Ireland.'

It was a dire second half at the Murrayfield 'megadome'. Mega bucks, mega bore. Gavin Hastings said that it was the best stadium in the world. Scotland did the business as did their captain, his remark about Murrayfield probably not unrelated to the fact that the sports management company he is employed by is selling the debentures that are paying for the new ground.

The wind made life difficult for everybody but, even allowing for the conditions, there has to be more to an international contest than this. Gavin Hastings, as solid as granite at full-back, had a bee in his bonnet. Above all else, he wanted to show he is the best full- back in the British Isles and he obviously has his eyes on the captaincy of the Lions. Do not mention Jon Webb, or any other full-back, in Hastings's company.

The confounding wind tempted players to kick and they often kicked badly. The Scottish Rugby Union, with pounds 37m invested in the new stadium, might be satisfied with two points and a win at any price seems to be top of the agenda in the boardroom. The price, though, is not necessarily right. The 'crack' on the terraces has gone and from 2.45 everybody was yawning in comfort. If a Scotsman took his son or daughter to Murrayfield, he would not have got much change out of pounds 60. In terms of entertainment, he would have been short-changed.

It seems that about one game out of 10 has benefited from the new laws. Ed Morrison, the referee here, had no empathy or sympathy with either the game or the players. Whatever happened to playing advantage? At one point, Scotland won a line-out and Morrison stopped play to penalise Ireland for lifting. On another occasion, when some of the Scottish forwards mistook Bradley's head for the ball and gave him a right shoeing, Morrison, on the spot, did absoultely nothing.

'We did what we said we would do,' McGeechan said. 'It was nice to see some of the things that we'd devised come off.' One of the tries, apparently, was born on the drawing board. Hastings was about to explain when McGeechan intervened. 'Sssh,' the coach said. The captain abruptly stopped talking.

Scotland: Tries Stark, Stanger; Conversion G Hastings; Penalty G Hastings. Ireland: Penalty Malone.

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), G Weir (Melrose), I Morrison (London Scottish).

IRELAND: C Wilkinson; S Geoghegan (London Irish), V Cunningham (St Mary's College), P Danaher, R Wallace (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), N Mannion (Lansdowne), D McBride (Malone).

Referee: E Morrison (England).