Rugby Union: Scots' kick start

Gavin Hastings's performance at Murrayfield earns Scotland victory and himself a record number of caps
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The Independent Online
It was irrelevant that they had finished at the bottom of the championship table last year, having bludgeoned each other with penalty goals into a 6-6 draw. This was another season, and Scotland and Ireland saw no reason to treat their latest meeting as a footnote to the more trumpeted events taking place at Twickenham. No doubt there were people in the new encircling stands who took a morbid interest in England's fortunes - not that there was any progress report from the announcer at half-time, as there would probably have been at Lansdowne Road or the Arms Park. But who is to say that they had got their priorities wrong? It is the charm of the tournament that all five nations are equal each year until events prove otherwise.

After a stumbling start, this match turned out to have more life, more suspense, and was at times, it seemed, better crafted than most. And what made it unforgettable in any case was a superlative performance by Gavin Hastings, whose place-kicking meant the difference in Scotland's victory by two converted tries and four penalties to two tries and one penalty.

Just by appearing on the field, Hastings passed Jim Renwick and Colin Deans to win a Scottish record of 53 caps. But he did it with such style that with 16 more points he soared past the 500 mark in internationals. And even at the end of the game he was still full of running.

Both teams desperately wanted to make a fresh start. Scotland had been through nine consecutive internationals without a win before beating Canada a fortnight ago. And although Ireland have always got the capacity to surprise teams, as they did England ayear ago, they had lost this year's opening game with them - and in Dublin.

These were not the kind of conditions we expected for Scotland's opening match. The sun shone, although it was so low in the sky that it never reached the pitch itself, and the air was lukewarm. But the normally tidy Murrayfield pitch was unusually threadbare, and even began to cut up in the passing practice before the game. Unfortunately, the early play had the same dishevelled air.

Ireland looked to be having the better of it in the opening minutes when, having chased beneath a high kick by Paul Burke, they were awarded a penalty for Scotland's offside in defence in the second minute.

But Burke missed the easy kick at goal, and almost immediately Scotland developed a rarely sustained movement among the forwards which led, if not to a try, then at least to an offside decision against Ireland. a kick for Hastings from in front of the posts put Scotland ahead after five minutes.

The next 20 minutes' play was a good deal less coherent, with both sides dropping passes, kicking feebly to touch, and unable to put together the the most basic tactics without having second thoughts. At this stage, the game was living up to its second- division billing. What saved it as a spectacle and a story of suspense was first a sudden revival in confidence by the Irish backs, and then a masterly counter- attack from Hastings's boot.

Ireland had already begun to press with a fine sprint down the left wing by Jonathan Bell, who had the ball jerked from his hand a metre from the corner. This led to a short period of Irish pressure, and when Scotland collapsed a scrum five metres out, to an equalising penalty from Burke.

The Irish felt they had the Scots on the run, and tightened the screw further. Through repeated effort, they stretched the Scottish cover until Brendan Mullin - who had come out of retirement this season, and was one of only two men in the side who had played in Ireland's last Murrayfield victory a decade before - saw a way through. Even then, he had to force his way out of three tackles to get across the line to put Ireland ahead.

That Ireland were not still leading at the interval was entirely due to the marksmanship of Hastings, who gave Scotland hope with a magnificent, clean-cut penalty from 42 metres, and then a simpler one to edge Scotland back in front at 9-8.

It was his contribution that made the difference between the vague possibility and near certainty of success in the second half. But Ireland were to regain the lead when, in the fourth minute of the second half, Bell - after being denied once - sped in on the left wing from a quickly taken tapped penalty. But they had only four minutes in front before Scotland took control of the match.

First Kenny Logan, chasing the ball and certain, it seemed, of a try, was impeded by Simon Geoghegan. But even as the referee was looking over his shoulder at the incident, the Scottish right wing, Craig Joiner, pursued the rolling ball to the death. Derek Bevan sensibly ignored the infringement and gave the try.

Later in the half, Damian Cronin shoved through - the last of several attempts from a rolling maul - to score Scotland's second try. Hastings, it hardly needs saying, converted both of them, and in the meantime landed his fourth penalty. It was the kind of contribution you might dream of making on a day like this to remind everyone why you had won all those caps. Mr Bevan was one of those who stood at the end of the match to clap him off the field.

Scotland: G Hastings (Watsonians, capt); C Joiner (Melrose), G Townsend (Gala), I Jardine (Stirling County), K Logan (Stirling County); C Chalmers (Melrose), B Redpath (Melrose); D Hilton (Bath), K Milne (Heriot's FP), P Wright (Boroughmuir), D Cronin (Bourges), S Campbell (Dundee HSFP), R Wainwright (West Hartlepool), I Morrison (London Scottish), E Peters (Bath).

Ireland: C O'Shea (Lansdowne); S Geoghegan (Bath), B Mullin (Blackrock College), P Danaher (Garryowen), J Bell (Ballymena); P Burke (Cork Constitution), M Bradley (Cork Constitution, capt); N Popplewell (Wasps), K Wood (Garryowen), P Clohessy (Young Munster), P Johns (Dungannon), G Fulcher (Cork Constitution), A Foley (Shannon), D McBride (Malone), B Cronin (Garryowen).

Referee: D Bevan (Wales).