Rugby Union: Townsend towers above the intensity

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The Independent Online
THE CELTIC comeback continues and now there's the dream scenario that Scotland will win the Five Nations' Championship and France will get the wooden spoon. Scotland, certainly, looked capable yesterday of going to Paris and inflicting another big blow on the French in three weeks' time.

Whether Wales can do their bit and beat England at Wembley on the same weekend is a much taller order but this tournament has produced so many shocks so far, nothing can be ruled out.

There's no doubt that the Scots have been the surprise package. We never gave their forwards a chance of living with the English and Irish packs but they've proved to be not only highly competitive but full of ideas and imagination and their back-row yesterday, particularly Eric Peters and Martin Leslie, were magnificent.

Although they scored first, Ireland would have been happy to be trailing by only five points at half-time. The Scottish forwards surprised them by taking them on up front, disrupting their line-outs and twisting the scrums. They refused to let Ireland set up any sort of platform that would have been useful to David Humphreys.

That they were able to do so after dropping seven points in the first couple of minutes was a great tribute to the Scottish self-belief. The way Dion O'Cuinneagain burst through to create the opening for that early Irish score would have disheartened any team. His kick ahead led to Humphreys touching down and I was sorry for him that the referee Derek Bevan awarded a penalty try for an earlier infringement.

Humphreys deserved to have that try in his records. Unfortunately, this wasn't the only time when Bevan was a little too quick with the whistle. It was a super game, fast and open, but we could have done with the referee letting things flow a little more.

But not even that could spoil what was an excellent spectacle and although the Irish kept themselves in the game until late on you always had the feeling that the Scots had the upper hand. They adapted far better in the loose, where they were full of fresh ideas and forced a succession of turnovers that their backs made full use of.

There was a time in the second half when the score was still only 15- 10 and Ireland mounted a ferocious attack down the left that failed just short of the line. They won a penalty which they decided to run and only brilliant Scottish defence kept them at bay. It might have been better had they elected to kick at goal. Humphreys did have a kick a little later, which he missed. So they could have taken a one-point lead that might have given them a psychological advantage. But Scotland had an intensity of purpose I haven't seen for a long time and they couldn't be held. You can't argue with a try tally of four to one.

There was no doubt in my mind that Gregor Townsend deserved to be Man of the Match. He was helped when Ireland's Andy Ward missed tackles that proved disastrous in opening up the space for the Scottish backs. Not far behind him were Scott Murray, the two Leslie boys and the winger Cameron Murray.

Ireland's O'Cuinneagain might have been the best man had his side had more control. The Irish will be feeling aggrieved that their Five Nations effort has ended with only two points and the threat of the wooden spoon after they had such an optimistic start against France and Wales, but they certainly weren't disgraced yesterday. The Five Nations is back to its competitive best and there is only a narrow line between success and failure.

England remain the power, as they showed yesterday, but after their excellent performance in Italy I don't believe Wales will be intimidated. England will try to put their usual stranglehold on the game but if the Welsh forwards can win their own ball their backs can cause trouble.

When you think of the derision that the Celts have suffered from the English and French, it is a tribute to all three that they've put themselves into a strong position to have the final say. The fact that they've also played the brightest rugby should not be overlooked. To produce the winner and avoid the wooden spoon should silence the cynics.

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