Ireland 15 Scotland 9: O'Gara carries Ireland's hopes to Twickenham

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The Independent Online

The Irish go to west London on Saturday, via Cheltenham, in good heart. Their glass is threequarters full, having completed two legs of the Triple Crown which awaits them if they beat England at Twickenham. Depending on what happens in Paris today, the Six Nations Championship could also be theirs.

Ireland managed to douse Scotland's fire yesterday on one of those dour, dire Dublin days when the only creatures truly at home were the prawns in Dublin Bay. The weather was foul and cast a blanket over a match which produced five penalties to Ireland by Ronan O'Gara to three by Chris Paterson. Mistakes galore but the Irish, for the time being, sit at the top of the table and have everything to play for.

In a first half that lurched between the canny and the downright crazy, the goal-kickers had a field day. Ireland began well enough and within eight minutes were 6-0 ahead, O'Gara landing a couple of relatively simple penalties. Any threequarter creeping offside was in the referee Stuart Dickinson's sights and in the opening stages the Scots were caught trying to steal an inch.

However, after O'Gara's second penalty Ireland were penalised for blocking a pursuer and it was Paterson's turn. He proceeded to land two penalties in the space of seven minutes and again they were from a range and angle that would only have caused a surprise had he missed. After 15 minutes it was 6-6 and then came something of a shock - O'Gara missed one.

Normal service was resumed when Marcus Di Rollo, going for an interception but knocking on, presented O'Gara with another opportunity to increase his points total. He duly made it from about 25 yards but still Ireland could not build a lead. Paterson again replied in kind - it was that kind of game.

Scotland, who spent most of the time trying to contain the Irish forwards and the rest of it tackling Brian O'Driscoll, managed to conjure a turnover which gave Sean Lamont room to motor on the left wing. By the time he decided what route to take he was surrounded by so many men in green he could have been in Sherwood Forest.

Nor were the half-backs having a great time of it - some of the tactical kicking was misdirected - and when O'Gara thought he'd use his hands instead, the result was a terrible pass. Scotland hacked upfield and it was O'Gara who denied them by scrambling the ball into touch 80 yards from his original mistake.

Thank goodness then for O'Driscoll, who added a touch of quicksilver to the dross with an explosive run that could have come from the barrel of a gun. He was finally put to ground after beating four players but it did not go unrecognised - the upshot was a penalty which O'Gara kicked and it gave the Irish a half-time lead, 12-9, which gave the scoreline a sense of perspective.

The most claustrophobic Six Nations in years may well be decided on the difference between points scored and points conceded come the climax on so-called "Super Saturday" next weekend. What is not so super about it is that although all six countries are in action on the same day, the kick-off times are staggered, the meal beginning with Italy against Scotland, followed by Wales and France and finally England's meeting with the Irish.

The broadcasters and the Six Nations committee have managed to produce a flawed menu for it is possible that the teams playing last next Saturday will have an unfair advantage. If indeed it all comes down to calculators they will know exactly what they have to do.

Even so, Eddie O'Sullivan, the Ireland coach, described yesterday's match as a "semi-final." It was, of course, nothing of the kind although he was trying to ensure that Ireland's undistinguished season did not drift from green to a dull grey. The Irish had incentive enough. On an emotional day they were playing their last Six Nations match on the Lansdowne Road ground as we know it. It has been described as the "Grand Old Lady", although the only adjective that fits is "Old." She should have been put down years ago and after a decade of dithering they have finally decided to send in the builders. For the next two years Ireland will play at Dublin's Croke Park, an 80,000-seater stadium that is the home of the Gaelic Athletic Association.

So there was plenty of croaking at the Road which hosted Ireland's first international on 11 March, 128 years ago, making it the oldest Test venue in the world. They'll have to put up a plaque, but not, perhaps, to commemorate this match. The Ireland forwards continued to dictate play after the interval and the closest they came to a try was when Andrew Trimble had an overlap on the left. It didn't help that Geordan Murphy's pass was low and Hugo Southwell put in a magnificent tackle at the corner.

Scotland, who hadn't won here since 1998, will not shed a tear for the old ground. In a desperate attempt to upset the pattern they made numerous changes, including the introduction of new half-backs, but it was up front where they could not establish control. The Irish line-out, even after Paul O'Connell had been rested, was dominant and provided the platform for victory. O'Gara, who kicked his fifth penalty in the 55th minute, was wide with another at the death but at least Lansdowne Road went out with a bang. The wrecker's ball could yet hit Twickenham.

MAN FOR MAN MARKING AT LANSDOWNE ROAD

By Paul Trow

Ireland

Star performer: Paul O'Connell 9

Demonstrated exactly why Ireland were waiting for him to prove his fitness by destroying the Scottish line-out and bossing the rucks and mauls.

Geordan Murphy 8

After an error-strewn tournament, the Leicester back at last gave some telling glimpses of his true talent, especially when on the counterattack.

Shane Horgan 6

The greasy conditions gave him few chances to run with the ball or show his handling skills. Was typically obdurate in denying Scotland any space.

Brian O'Driscoll 8

If anyone was going to jink his way through either side's blanket defence, it was the Irish skipper. Wriggled over the gain line with unsettling regularity.

Gordon D'Arcy 6

Denied significant opportunities to give vent to the attacking side of his nature, but applied himself diligently to more mundane defensive duties.

Andrew Trimble 6

Had perhaps the best try-scoring chance of the match, but was held up fatally by a poor pass to his boots. Otherwise, confined to policing touch.

Ronan O'Gara 8

Exploited conditions suited to his style of play by driving the Scots back with kicks from hand of pinpoint accuracy. Less precise with his penalty shots.

Peter Stringer 8

Had the advantage of usually finding himself on the front foot and driving his forwards onwards into Scottish territory. Was rarely far from the ball.

Marcus Horan 6

Front-row honours ended just about even although there was a slight suspicion that this was one area in which the Scots might have had an edge.

Jerry Flannery 8

Maintained a clean sheet with his line-out throwing and pounded many hard yards in the loose. Resembled O'Driscoll at times with ball in hand.

John Hayes 6

Spent proceedings in support mode - lifting, driving, mauling, keeping Douglas at bay, and avoiding contact with a ball seemingly made of soap.

Malcolm O'Kelly 7

The main line-out pivot on his side's own throw-in, comfortably soaring beyond the clutches of Scotland's locks. Never far from view in the loose.

Simon Easterby 7

Always an effective option for Ireland at the back of the line-out, but not let off the leash apart from that. Spent most of his time otherwise on the floor.

David Wallace 8

What an irony to see the bravehearts of the Scottish back row fall foul of a marauder called Wallace. Kept punching holes in the first line of defence.

Denis Leamy 6

Seemed unsure whether this was a day for the dog in him or best of breed. Held back from much of the rough stuff, more of a watchdog really.

Replacements

Donncha O'Callaghan 7: No anticlimax after O'Connell left.

Rory Best: Not used.

Simon Best: Not used.

Mick O'Driscoll: Not used.

Eoin Reddan: Not used.

David Humphreys: Not used.

Girvan Dempsey: Not used.

Scotland

Star performer: Chris Paterson 8

Despite seeing precious little of the ball, he never put a foot wrong. Calm and neat when defending, impeccable again with his kicking.

Hugo Southwell 7

Grows in stature with each cap he wins. Has a powerful left foot which gets him out of some tight scrapes. Not a day for running out of defence.

Marcus Di Rollo 6

Re-enacted his 'they shall not pass' role seen most recently against England. His time on the ball, though, was even more severely limited this time.

Andrew Henderson 7

A couple of subtle second-half breaks suggested that a creative spark may lurk within his powerful frame. Needs to work on offloading out of the tackle.

Sean Lamont 6

Prevented from giving full rein to his attacking flair for a second successive outing. Tackles and blocks as ferociously as any of the Scottish backs.

Dan Parks 7

Considering he was back-pedalling for most of the game, he maintained his distance and accuracy well when kicking from hand. A committed display.

Mike Blair 5

Presumably targeted beforehand by the Irish think tank as a potential danger, and never really given a sniff of the gaps he likes to burst through.

Gavin Kerr 7

Got nicely under Hayes on a number of Irish put-ins, thus undermining the quality of possession. Appears more assured in the international arena.

Douglas Hall 5

Perhaps unfair to single him out solely for the shambles into which the line-out descended. Must have felt dizzy with his men moving about so much.

Bruce Douglas 6

Held his own well in the first half against a heavier pack, but had a stop-start time after the interval, returning briefly as a blood replacement.

Nathan Hines 5

Controversially recalled for his extra experience and to bolster the line-outs. Struggled in every department and was eclipsed by the Irish locks.

Scott Murray 6

Even his peerless line-out skills deserted the cause when needed the most. Battled willingly at the coal face without making much headway.

Jason White 7

Again looked like the Scottish forward who might turn the game with his rumbustious brand of full-on tackling, hefty hoofing and non-stop running.

Ally Hogg 6

Was not as effective as against the English and did not achieve anything like the required amount of turnover ball. Pulled up for a few infringements.

Simon Taylor 5

Lansdowne Road in the sleet is definitely not the elegant, athletic No 8's cup of tea. Found himself too easily passed over by the Irish back row.

Replacements

Craig Smith 5: On, off, then on again. Never settled.

Jon Petrie 5: Late entry to replace bleeding White.

Chris Cusiter 6: Injected zip with his passing.

Gordon Ross 6: Like Parks, did well under pressure.

Simon Webster 5: Tried to run, and promptly slipped.

Scott Lawson: Not used.

Alastair Kellock: Not used.



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