Few positives emerged from Ireland's 10-6 loss to Scotland on Saturday, but the return of Rob Kearney from a serious knee injury was one highlight. Kearney played his first match since sustaining cartilage and ligament damage against New Zealand last November, completing the full 80 minutes unscathed.
Kearney, making his comeback alongside Tomas O'Leary and Jerry Flannery, admitted the occasion had been playing on his mind but was satisfied with the way it unfolded. "It's a huge relief to be playing again. I'd been nervous all week – I don't usually get nerves beforehand," he said. "I came across some big obstacles. The result wasn't what we wanted but from a personal perspective it was good to get through it.
"I felt really good at times, but was blowing at others. All in all I was happy and felt pretty comfortable. I've come back from injury before where you try to do something magical, but my main focus was to do the basics right and make as few errors as possible.
"I was pleased with the way it went, but if I'd had a shocker I wasn't going to judge myself too much. Likewise, if I had a stormer I wasn't going to get overexcited either. I don't know if I'll be playing every week, but I'd love to play every week."
Irish coach Declan Kidney had not planned for Kearney to play the full game, so, having not expected to be on the pitch at the final whistle, Kearney was delighted by the way his left knee responded to the workout.
"When I saw [substitute] Felix Jones on the line I wasn't happy to be going off, but I thought maybe that was for me," he said. "During the week I'd prepared for 60 or 70 minutes, maybe a little foolishly. Then I'd got cramp towards the end for their try. I was a little bit surprised I got through the full 80 and was given the full 80. But the knee feels brilliant, which for me was the most important thing. There were a couple of tackles and contact situations where I thought, 'It's nice to be back'. You appreciate those collisions again in a strange sort of way."
Kearney's return allowed Ireland to glean some satisfaction from an otherwise frustrating afternoon. Leading 6-3 through two Jonathan Sexton penalties, they saw victory snatched from their grasp with four minutes to go when a superb break and pass from Nick De Luca allowed Joe Ansbro to turn on the afterburners and beat Andrew Trimble on his way to the line. It was a beautifully executed try from Scotland, whose strong line-up struggled to dispatch an experimental Ireland team.
Scotland: Tries Ansbro. Conversion Jackson. Penalty Patterson. Ireland: Penalties Sexton 2.
Scotland: C Paterson; N Walker, J Ansbro, G Morrison, S Lamont; R Jackson, R Lawson; A Jacobsen, R Ford, G Cross, J Hamilton, R Gray, A Strokosch, R Rennie, J Beattie. Replacements N De Luca for Paterson, 70; J Cuthbert for Walker, 22; G Laidlaw for Lawson, 70; A Dickinson for Jacobsen, 57; D Hall for Ford, 70; A Kellock for Hamilton, 57; D Denton for Beattie, 57.
Ireland: R Kearney; A Trimble, F McFadden, P Wallace, L Fitzgerald; J Sexton, T O'Leary; T Court, S Cronin, T Buckley, D Ryan, L Cullen, M McCarthy, N Ronan, D Leamy. Replacements F Jones for Fitzgerald, 61; I Boss for O'Leary, 61;, J Hayes for Court, 61; J Flannery for Cronin, 61;, M Horan for Buckley, 61; K McLaughlin for Ryan, 51;, M O'Driscoll for Cullen , 61.
Referee: W Barnes (RFU).