Rugby Union: Irish fall to a Chalmers offensive

Ireland 16 Scotland 17 Try: Penalty try Try: Tait Cons: Humphreys Pens: Chalmers 2, Pens Humphreys 2 Shepherd 2 D rop: Humphreys
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The Independent Online
THE pundits and pontificators on the sidelines of the game had stirred things up when they said that this match was in effect the Wooden Spoon showdown. That may still be so, but both teams showed yesterday they will not accept it without a fight.

Neither side really got it together for long enough, but both showed willing. They will be no one's cannon fodder. There were mistakes - some of them appalling - from both, but there was also enterprise from Ireland and rugged resistance and guts from Scotland. Ireland's backs at times were thrilling to watch. The back row needed the injection they got from the popular Victor Costello far earlier than the 67th minute, because by then the Scotland back three had tilted the contest in the Dark Blues' favour.

But throughout the Irish displayed more than mere traditional fire. They rolled up their sleeves from the start and revealed plenty of tricks, particularly when they moved the ball out into the backs. A couple of woeful errors let them down on occasion, but there was enough on display in a see-saw and rather ragged first half to promise better things as they warmed up.

The Ireland forwards were a revelation while the Scots back row, as expected, proved a handful on the breakaway. They also turned into rocks in defence, but the Irish eight were in a mean mood. Pressure late in the half, when they were trailing by a two penalties to one, took them right into the Scots' faces and almost up to the line.

The defence infringed, Ireland opted for a scrum. And squeezed. And shoved. The Scots folded. Ireland chose the scrum again and once more asserted their superiority. At the third collapsed set-piece the South African referee Andre Watson warned the Scottish front row. The fourth scrum saw the Scotland captain Gary Armstrong trying to prevent Ireland's No 8, Eric Miller, from scoring. Mr Watson had seen enough and awarded Ireland a penalty try, converted by David Humphreys to give the home side a 39th- minute lead.

But Scotland have not lost to the Irish since 1988 and they came back in the best way possible. Their much-vaunted backs strung together several perfect passes as they swept upfield for Alan Tait to touch down and take his side back in front.

But the Scottish move which led to that try was not a patch on the bewildering and beautiful sequence which the Irish had conjured up a little earlier in the half. It bemused the Scottish midfield and many in the crowd judging by the way there was a temporary hush until they saw Denis Hickie hurtling linewards. Fortunately for Scotland, Tony Stanger was alert to the danger and bundled his opposite number into touch. But the pre-match promise of the Irish captain, Keith Wood, that his backs would give the Scots a few frights, had been borne out.

And the fires had been lit in Irish bellies as well. Within quarter of an hour of the restart they were ahead again. First a Humphreys penalty then, following a line-out, the Ireland outside-half thumped over a drop goal from 30 metres.

The crowd were roaring; the spirits were soaring and Wood and his band applied the pressure. More scrums close to the goal-line, more penalties. Sadly the advantage was frittered by an Irish infringement and the siege was lifted.

Thus liberated, the Scots worked their way into Irish territory once more and under the skin of their opponents, to the extent that Ireland lost it long enough to concede their hard-earned lead. Craig Chalmers, back in harness with Armstrong at half-back, took over the kicking duties from Rowen Shepherd, who had missed a conversion and three penalties.

Although he kicks for Melrose, his club, it is a different thing when confronted by a wall of Irish sound and a sea of green scarves. But Chalmers was the equal to it and landed two straightforward, but nevertheless nervous penalties and Scotland were back in front.

The complexion of the game changed. Now it was Ireland on the back foot and making basic errors, such as kicking straight into touch when trying to break out of the shackles that Scotland were starting to apply. There was much huffing and puffing and Scotland went close on a number of occasions.

The Irish defences were stretched, at times seemingly beyond the elastic limit, but they survived. And as often been the case with the Irish there was always the threat of a counter-attack. Aided by a penalty for offside and another for not retreating the requisite 10 metres the Irish moved closer to their strike zone, somewhere near halfway, and the match moved closer to the final whistle. Humphreys attempted a long range drop goal, to no avail and suddenly it was all over. But whether the Wooden Spoon is destined for the losers remains very much a moot point.

Ireland: C O'Shea (London Irish); R Wallace (Saracens), K Maggs (Bristol), M McCall (London Irish), D Hickie (St Mary's); D Humphreys (London Irish), B O'Meara (Cork Const); R Corrigan (Greystones), K Wood (Harlequins, capt), P Wallace (Saracens), P Johns (Saracens), M O'Kelly (London Irish), D Corkery (Bristol), E Miller (Leicester), K Dawson (London Irish). Replacements: V Costello (ST Mary's) for Dawson, 67; N Popplewell (Newcastle) for P Wallace, 60-62.

Scotland: R Shepherd (Watsonians); C Joiner (Leicester), A Tait (Newcastle), G Townsend (Northampton), K Logan (Wasps); C Chalmers (Melrose), G Armstrong (capt, Newcastle); G Graham (Newcastle), G Bulloch (West of Scotland), M Stewart (Northampton), D Cronin (Wasps; S Grimes (Watsonians), D Weir (Newcastle), R Wainwright (Dundee HSFP), S Holmes (London Scottish), P Walton (Newcastle). Replacements: T Stanger (Hawick) for Joiner, 15; D Hilton (Bath) for Graham, 60; S Grimes (Watsonians) for Cronin, 64; D Lee (London Scottish) for Shepherd, 78.

Referee: A Watson (South Africa)