Rugby Union: Unsound Irish drowned out by Scotland

Ireland 16 Scotland 17; Try Penalty try Try Tait Penalties Humphreys 2 Penalties Chalmers 2 Conversions Humphreys Shepherd 2 Drop Humphreys Half-time 10-11 Attendance 48,000
Before the corpse of Ireland rugby is paraded at its wake (and the cry goes up for the odd head to roll) it would be advisable to conduct a post mortem to establish whether there is still life there, because before this slenderest of defeats there was most certainly hope. And while a margin of one point is still a failure, even the most distressed of Irish supporters should have been able to spot the faint flickerings of something stirring.

After all, it was not as if they were buried by Scotland. Indeed, Gary Armstrong and his men contributed just as much dross to a substandard match. It was certainly no one-sided massacre, no lamb-like procession to a ritual slaughter. At least Ireland managed to do something they have failed to achieve for some time, to harness traditional passion and fire with flair out wide and force up front and compete.

And while the coach, Brian Ashton, is entitled to his fury at witnessing, once again, an inability to take training-ground drills into a match; to watch helplessly as hard-earned possession and position was kicked away towards the end; and to see just about everyone in the side contributing to an unacceptable number of crass errors, which ultimately cost them dear, there was still plenty to build on. A solid scrummage, a competitive line-out and some breathtaking threequarter moves.

Ashton, even amid the anger, did admit: "I thought we were the better side in so many areas of the game. There were occasions when our back play looked a lot sharper and in the second half there were four occasions when we got outside the Scottish backs, which is quite something at international level. But we lost, in spite of everything and that is very difficult to swallow."

Ashton was also choking with rage at the way stand-off David Humphreys, in particular, kicked away precious possession in the last quarter. "I don't know whose game plan that was," he fumed, "but it was nothing to do with me."

After a brief post-match analysis with his captain, Keith Wood, Ashton concluded that the unforced errors and poor option taking had to be put down to a lack of concentration by the Irish players. In contrast, Scotland, who were also guilty of some basic mistakes and turnovers and did not play to their best, had had their minds wonderfully concentrated in the past week by the stinging criticism levelled at them by former players, and, probably more hurtfully, by two former captains.

Jim Telfer, back in charge of the coaching until the end of the Five Nations but probably not after, confessed: "I think some of the criticism has been quite justified, but I am hurt by what some people are saying, in particular David Sole and Finlay Calder.

"They must have played for Scotland when we were down. When I took over the Scotland team for the first time Jim Renwick was playing his 36th international and he had never won away from home - and we didn't in that match either, against France in 1981. To win away from home takes some doing. So these people are being unrealistic."

Both sides had gone into the match on the back of defeats against Italy, results which strengthened their claim to turn the Five Nations championship in to six, and Telfer made no extravagant claims about the quality of his side's performance. "We made mistakes today," he said, "but we won, and that's the most important thing."

There was one minor triumph for all Ireland. Their attempt on the world record noise level was a howling success. At one point in the second half, when the Irish backs launched yet another imaginative but fruitless assault on the Scotland line, the sell-out crowd, including some 15,000 armed with cardboard megaphones supplied by Guinness, sent the sound waves soaring to 125.4 decibels, an achievement which earned them a place in the Guinness Book of Records. What happens when they really have something to shout about, heaven only knows.

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 Constitution); R Corrigan (Greystones), K Wood (Harlequins, capt), P Wallace, P Johns (both Saracens), M O'Kelly (London Irish), D Corkery (Bristol), K Dawson (London Irish), E Miller (Leicester). Replacements: N Popplewell (Newcastle) for P Wallace, 60-62; V Costello (St Mary's) for K Dawson, 67.

SCOTLAND: R Shepherd (Melrose); C Joiner (Leicester), A Tait (Newcastle), G Townsend (Northampton), K Logan (Wasps); C Chalmers (Melrose), G Armstrong (capt); G Graham (both Newcastle), G Bulloch (West of Scotland), M Stewart (Northampton), D Cronin (Wasps), D Weir (Newcastle), R Wainwright (Dundee HSFP), S Holmes (London Scottish), P Walton (Newcastle). Replacements: A 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).