Stringer's delivery neatly wraps it up
The match deserved and needed a try, and it came from an old lag who seems to have learnt a new trick. Peter Stringer, a hugely annoying scrum-half who doesn't seem to have had any hair on his head since the day he was born, made the most significant break of a torrid encounter. And what a breakthrough it was.
After Chris Paterson and Ronan O'Gara had been teeing it up at the posts with great success, the game was in its 50th minute when Stringer, who has been second string for most of this championship and the last but is virtually married to his Munster team-mate Ronan O'Gara, took a ball from a line-out and set sail through Murrayfield.
It caught the Scottish back row and their captain, Mike Blair, Stringer's opposite number, totally unaware because, for one thing, Stringer's first instinct is to whip out a pass to O'Gara rather than run.
Beware of the timing of bringing on replacements. Frank Hadden, the Scotland coach, decided to take Jason White out of the pack, and the second Nathan Hines came on the game was up. The line-out gave Stringer the rarest of opportunities in what was a claustrophobic Celtic clash – it was the glimmer of an opening and the scrum-half took it like a whippet after a rabbit. He hared through a gap, and when he approached the Scottish line he delivered one of the passes of the season, an inside delivery that totally changed the angle of attack and found the replacement No 8, Jamie Heaslip.
The back-rower had nobody in front of him and he celebrated before touching down. Who could blame him? It was the beginning of the end for Scotland, who had held a half-time lead courtesy of Paterson's immaculate boot, not to mention a tremendous effort by their forwards, but the full-back couldn't quite shake off O'Gara's contribution to the scoreboard.
O'Gara overtook a huge milestone in surpassing Jonny Wilkinson's points total in the championship. This was, perhaps, as surprising as Stringer's break. O'Gara kicked like a nervous wreck in the one-point victory over England at Croke Park, yet yesterday he was virtually spot-on.
"I felt awful after the England game," the stand-off said. "I made a balls of it." But the Irish still won, and next weekend in Cardiff against Wales they have an outstanding chance of winning their second Grand Slam – the last was in 1948. "It's all about next weekend," O'Gara said.
Stringer didn't look best pleased when he was replaced after 65 minutes but he was a bit more effervescent at the end of the seven-point victory. "It was a great opportunity to be chosen for this match and this was special," he said. "I can hold my head high." The Ireland coach, Declan Kidney, formerly of Munster – without this province where on earth would Ireland be? – said of Stringer: "I knew he'd have a good game. It wasn't pretty but I'm absolutely delighted with the win. No, we're not talking of a Grand Slam at this moment – there's a lot to play for."
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