Parks stirs Scotland to avoid the wooden spoon

Ireland 20 Scotland 23: Last-gasp penalty means inconsistent Ireland miss out on the Triple Crown
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The Independent Online

No grand finale for Ireland this time. Not even a Triple Crowning consolation prize. Twelve months ago in Cardiff, Brian O'Driscoll and his side were celebrating their country's first Grand Slam in 61 years. Last night on the north side of Dublin they were bidding farewell to the Irish capital's great Gaelic sporting cathedral in the same manner that they had greeted it. Back in February 2007, it was France who wrecked the moving-in party. This time it was the Scots who made it another choker of an occasion at Croker for Ireland.

Yes, the Scotland side who arrived in Dublin without a win on the Six Nations board were expected to stir nothing but the wooden spoon. They had not won in the Irish capital since 1998, nor anywhere else on the road in the championship since 2006. And yet Andy Robinson's side emerged as party poopers supreme.

They did so in stirring fashion, recovering from the early blow of an O'Driscoll try, with their dynamo of a No 8, Johnnie Beattie, knocking back what seemed half the population of the Emerald Isle to cross the whitewash at the other end, and with Dan Parks putting the boot in big-time. The Glasgow fly-half kicked 18 points, the last three of them at the death with a match-winning penalty from tight to the left touchline – with the boos ringing round the 83,000-capacity arena. Not that the jeers were likely to knock Parks out of his stride. He has heard plenty of them from the home supporters at Murrayfield in the course of his roller-coaster ride of an international career.

"Dan Parks was the right person to step up and kick it," Robinson reflected. "It was a great moment." It was that for Scotland's English head coach. It brought him to his feet, punching the air in celebration of a sweet victory.

For Parks, the winning moment had a particularly satisfying taste, the native Sydneysider – an omission from Robinson's autumn squad – having completed his transformation from villain to national hero, and gained a third championship Man of the Match award to boot. The 31-year-old was not the only Scottish hero last night – far from it – but he was at his orchestrating best, getting the scoreboard ticking with a fifth-minute penalty.

Jonathan Sexton, Ireland's outside-half, fashioned a peach of a try six minutes later, although there was a hint of forwardness in the scoring pass he fed to O'Driscoll, who raised his record national try tally to 39. Sexton's conversion made it 7-3, then Ireland were stung by one of Scotland's "Killer Bs," the increasingly influential Beattie taking a feed from Graeme Morrison on the left and holding off Geordan Murphy, Paul O'Connell and Gordon D'Arcy on his way to depositing the ball over the try-line.

Parks missed the touchline conversion attempt but by half-time had added a penalty and a long-range drop-goal, leaving Scotland 14-7 to the good and a kind of hush all over Croker. He landed another penalty three minutes into the second half, stretching the Caledonian advantage to 10 points.

Ireland were in a state of some disarray. Even their trusty line-out was stalling, the Scots ambushing seven of them. Sexton pegged back a penalty before making way for Ronan O'Gara as the fightback began. With 65 minutes on the clock, Ireland worked a four-on-two overlap on the right and Tommy Bowe rode a tackle from Sean Lamont and applied just enough of a scoring touch before losing control.

Croke Park roared. It roared again when O'Gara slotted the conversion from close to the touchline. Ireland were level, at 17-17, with 15 minutes left to salvage the Triple Crown. It was not to be. O'Gara scored an equalising penalty after another from Parks, but the game was up when Scotland's fly-half hoisted a kick to the left corner. Rob Kearney was caught in possession by Simon Danielli and Nick De Luca and pinged for not releasing.

Parks stepped up to deliver a blow right in the Irish solar plexus. "It's just so disappointing, with what was at stake," Declan Kidney, Ireland's head coach, said. "But you've got to give credit to Scotland." Amen to that.

Ireland G Murphy (R Kearney, 26); T Bowe, B O'Driscoll (capt), G D'Arcy, K Earls; J Sexton (R O'Gara, 52), T O'Leary; C Healy, R Best, J Hayes (T Buckley, 78), D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell, S Ferris, J Heaslip, D Wallace.

Scotland H Southwell; S Lamont, N De Luca, G Morrison, M Evans; D Parks, C Cusiter (capt; M Blair, 52); A Jacobsen (A Dickinson, 66), R Ford (S Lawson, 72), E Murray, J Hamilton (R Gray, 52), A Kellock, K Brown (A MacDonald 26-34; 38-40; 45-58), J Beattie, J Barclay.

Referee: J Kaplan (South Africa).