Veteran O'Gara delivers tactical masterclass to deepen Scotland's gloom

Scotland 18 Ireland 21
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The Independent Online

So where do Scotland go from here? That would be to Twickenham, where they last won on the afternoon of 5 March 1983, when the Dukes of Hazard and Jim'll Fix It followed the screening of the 22-12 success by Jim Aitken's side on BBC1. If Andy Robinson's men are to stop the Red Rose Grand-Slam juggernaut they will have some fixing to do in the next fortnight.

On home ground yesterday they threw all bar the kitchen sink at Ireland in a frantic finale but still finished three points short of a first victory in the 2011 Six Nations Championship.

As it was, Robinson's side failed to cross the opposition whitewash for an eighth successive Murrayfield match, and could not quite claw back the points they conceded in the shape of three Irish tries, all converted by Ronan O'Gara.

Ireland's veteran outside-half played a major role in the first two scores and plundered the third himself. He may be just a week short of his 34th birthday but O'Gara can still conduct a Test with his right boot.

Had Declan Kidney's side not slipped up against France a fortnight ago, the tactical masterclass of their restored pivot might have been nudging them towards a Grand Slam showdown against England on home ground on the final weekend of the championship. As it is, having held on by their finger-nails yesterday, they have a shot at a Triple Crown.

"That's just one game out of three," O'Gara cautioned. "We were very good at times today and very poor at times too. It was a relief at the end when the whistle blew, but it's all about winning and that's what we managed to do."

As for the Scots, they ultimately paid the price for conceding another early try – their third in the opening eight minutes in the three championship matches they have contested this season.

This time it came with six minutes on the clock, stemming from a teasing prod of a kick from O'Gara that Chris Paterson could only slap into touch. From line-out and then ruck ball, hooker Rory Best gave a simple feed to No 8 Jamie Heaslip and the mechanical engineering graduate was left with an open barn door to attack, Sean Lamont and Nick de Luca having both shot out of the defensive line to nail Best.

It was an open goal of a score for the big Ireland forward and a formality of a conversion for O'Gara. All of which left Scotland 7-0 down and in desperate need of a platform.

Slowly but surely they built one, forcing two penalties from closer range that Paterson converted with his customary aplomb. That cut the deficit to 7-6 by the end of the first quarter but then Scotland proceeded to shoot themselves in the foot.

They were attacking on the Ireland 22-metre line when they were turned over, scrum-half Eoin Reddan haring off on the counter and then O'Gara applying boot to ball to pin Scotland into the left corner. An overthrow by Ross Ford from the ensuing line-out kept the pressure firmly on and then Heaslip peeled from the back of a five-metre scrum and Reddan took the ball from his Leinster colleague to burst over for his first try in 27 Tests for his country.

O'Gara added the extras and would have had another conversion to line up had Lamont not come to the rescue with a flying tackle on wing Keith Earls in the final play of the first-half. As it was, Paterson having pegged a third penalty, Scotland were still in the hunt at the interval, trailing 14-9. What they didn't want, however, was to be a man down early in the second-half, which came to pass when loosehead prop Allan Jacobsen was shown the yellow-card by Nigel Owens for diving straight in at the opposition hooker at scrum-time.

All Scotland could do was batten down the hatches. They needed to, with Sean O'Brien, Ireland's powerful blindside flanker, rampaging in the loose like a one-man bulldozer. They could only hold out for so long, though. With 53 minutes on the clock, and Scotland being battered on the back foot, Reddan shipped the ball to the right and O'Gara eluded Ford as he snapped through the defensive line to run in behind the posts.

O'Gara's conversion made it 21-9 and that might have been that – had Scotland not started to haul themselves up by the bootstraps. Paterson kicked a fourth penalty, then Dan Parks replaced Ruaridh Jackson at outside-half and kept the tide turning, landing a penalty from half-way and a trademark drop goal. It was not quite enough, leaving Robinson to reflect on what might have been.

"I was pleased with the attitude the players showed," Scotland's head coach said. "What disappointed me was that the referee didn't show any of their players a yellow card. Every time we got close to the line they offended."

Scotland: Penalties Paterson 4, Parks; Drop goal Parks.

Ireland. Tries: Heaslip, Reddan, O'Gara; Conversions O'Gara 3.

Scotland: C Paterson (Edinburgh); N Walker (Ospreys), N De Luca (Edinburgh), S Lamont (Ospreys), M Evans (Glasgow); R Jackson (Glasgow), M Blair (Edinburgh); A Jacobsen (Edinburgh), R Ford (Edinburgh), M Low (Glasgow), R Gray (Glasgow), A Kellock (Glasgow, capt), K Brown (Saracens),J Barclay (Glasgow), J Beattie (Glasgow).

Replacements: G Cross (Edinburgh) for Beattie, 50-60, for Low, 67; S Lawson (Gloucester) for Ford, 54; R Vernon (Glasgow) for Beattie, 60; D Parks (Cardiff Blues) for Jackson, 54; R Lawson (Gloucester) for Blair, 62; N Hines (Leinster) for Barclay, 67; S Danielli (Ulster) for Walker, 75.

Ireland: L Fitzgerald (Leinster); T Bowe (Ospreys), B O'Driscoll (Leinster, capt), G D'Arcy (Leinster), K Earls (Munster); R O'Gara (Munster), E Reddan (Leinster); C Healy (Leinster), R Best (Ulster), M Ross (Leinster), D O'Callaghan (Munster), P O'Connell (Munster), S O'Brien (Leinster), D Wallace (Munster), J Heaslip (Leinster).

Replacements: S Cronin (Connacht) for Best, 60; D Leamy (Munster) for Wallace, 60; P Stringer (Munster) for Reddan, 60; L Cullen (Leinster) for O'Callaghan, 67; J Sexton (Leinster) for O'Gara, 68; T Court (Ulster) for Ross, 71.

Referee: N Owens (Wales).

The match statistics


Scotland 0        Tries        Ireland 3

Scotland 0/0        Conversions        Ireland 3/3

Scotland 5/6        Penalties        Ireland 0/2

Scotland 1/1        Drop goals        Ireland 0/0

Phases of play

Scotland 3        Scrums won        Ireland 4

Scotland 0        Scrums lost        Ireland 0

Scotland 15        Line-outs won        Ireland 6

Scotland 2        Line-outs lost        Ireland 3

Scotland 4        Pens conceded        Ireland 12

Scotland 5        Mauls won        Ireland 2

Scotland 14        Ruck and drive        Ireland 11

Scotland 79        Ruck and pass        Ireland 63

Team statistics

Scot 192        Passes made        Ireland 144

Scotland 2        Line breaks        Ireland 7

Scot 24        Possession kicked        Ireland 24

Scotland 5        Kicks to touch        Ireland 11

Scot 99        Tackles made        Ireland 122

Scotl 12        Tackles missed        Ireland 5

Scot 13        Offloads in tackle        Ireland 7

Scot 11        Total errors made        Ireland 11

Ball won

Scotland 98        In open play        Ireland 76

Scot 10         In opponent's 22        Ireland 23

Scotland 30        At set-pieces        Ireland 14

Scotland 1        Turnovers won        Ireland 5