Scott Johnson was not exactly proclaiming his side to be "The Greatest" from the rooftops of Murrayfield last night but, in the aftermath of Scotland's unlikely victory against Ireland, their interim head coach was comparing them to Muhammad Ali.
Asked whether he had ever been involved with a team that had enjoyed such little possession (29 per cent) but ended up winning, the Australian replied: "At half-time I felt like we must have watched Ali and Foreman – that we were just lulling them into some false sense of security or something. My neck was getting sore looking down one end of the pitch."
Having spent the opening half up against the ropes, like Ali for much of his Rumble in the Jungle with George Foreman in 1974, Johnson's charges proceeded to complete their rope-a-dope mission, thanks to four penalties from Greig Laidlaw and opposition who floated like butterflies and stung like them too. "I've played in games like that on the other side," Johnson continued. "It puts a bit of pressure on you when you look at the scoreboard at half-time and it's only 3-0.
"We took our chances and they didn't. We showed some real resolve and some great character. It brought out the blue collar boy in me. I like that side of it. It's humbling to see. If we want to be a top quality side we've got to acknowledge we need to work on a few things."
Asked whether he considered Scotland to be title contenders, with two wins now from three games, Johnson replied: "Well, we're in it. And there's no doubt we can compete."
No one in a blue jersey showed that competitiveness more than lock Jim Hamilton, who constantly disrupted the Irish at line-out time. "Jim's not everyone's cup of tea," Johnson said. "But, lucky for him, our coaching staff are coffee drinkers. I didn't pick him for his looks."
When it came to the post-match looks department, Ireland's head coach Declan Kidney could hardly have been more downcast. Having seen his side get off to a flying start in Cardiff, with some champagne rugby in the first 45 minutes of their championship opener, the Irish Six Nations glass now looks not so much half-full as shattered – following two successive defeats and an ever- lengthening injury list.
Asked whether his team were the architects of their own downfall, the former Munster coach acknowledged: "Yes, that would be one way of articulating it. We put ourselves in good positions but we just didn't manage to exploit them."
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- Mark Tucker