When Muhammad Ali made his one and only appearance at the home of Gaelic sport, back in July 1972, he was suffering from flu but still summoned sufficient clout to finish off Al "Blue" Lewis. For the opening quarter of their first visit to 'Croker' last night, Scotland had Ireland on the back foot, if not quite up against the ropes. Sadly for them, and for their head coach, Frank Hadden, they floated like butterflies and stung like them too.
Simon Webster did manage to get a try on the board for Hadden's men but it came in the 53rd minute and Scotland had shipped three tries by then, thanks to some stand-offish, barn-door-ajar defending.
A fourth and a fifth try were to follow as Ireland rediscovered a clinical counter-attacking edge and the pressure eased from the shoulders of their hitherto beleaguered coach, Eddie O'Sullivan. "It wasn't perfect," O'Sullivan reflected, "but if you score five tries in a Six Nations match you've got to be happy. The Six Nations' Championship is all about building momentum and we're doing that, with two wins out of three."
Next up for the Irish are Warren Gatland's Wales in Dublin in a fortnight.
Unless they can conjure one of their odds-defying Calcutta Cup victories in two weeks' time, Scotland will be heading for Rome on Six Nations denouement day needing to win to avert a second successive championship whitewash.
Andy Robinson having guided Scotland's A team to a record 67-7 victory against their Irish counterparts in Perth on Friday night, the pressure on Hadden is starting to mount. "Looking at the scoreboard at the end was really hard to bear," Hadden reflected. "We put a lot of work into that game. It seems ridiculous to say, because the scoreboard doesn't lie, but we did feel it was a step forward for us"
It was indeed an improvement on the dire Scottish showings against France and Wales. At least they cast off the shackles and gave it a lash, Chris Paterson – starting at outside-half – shipping the ball wide at every opportunity in an enterprising opening spell, even running a penalty from an eminently kickable position. The trouble was their lash lacked any menace where it mattered, first Paterson, then Andy Henderson failing to find Rory Lamont on the overlap with grubber kicks into the right-hand corner.
Having played with such endeavour, it must have been galling in the extreme for the Scots to wilt under the first hint of Irish pressure, with 22 minutes on the clock. Peeling from the back of a five-metre scrum in front of the posts, No 8 Jamie Heaslip fed an inside ball to David Wallace and the open-side flanker enjoyed a clear run to the line. Ronan O'Gara added the extras and, though Paterson landed a penalty at the other end, Scotland were struck by another sucker punch in the 26th minute.
Geordan Murphy gathered a garryowen tight to the right touchline and O'Gara's half-break from the recycled possession stretched the Scottish defence sufficiently for Brian O'Driscoll to find Rob Kearney on the overlap with a looping pass. The Leinster wing galloped into the left corner for his first international try, O'Gara's conversion making it 14-3 to Ireland.
Paterson's second penalty cut the deficit to 14-6 and it might have been closer still at half-time had Scotland not suffered a reversed penalty decision, courtesy of a swinging arm from Nathan Hines in the general direction of Denis Leamy.
The attempted blow, though, was nothing like as telling as the metaphorical one the Scots took to the solar plexus in the opening minute of the second half. Munster prop Marcus Horan collected an O'Gara chip to touch down in the right corner. O'Gara missed with his conversion attempt but added a penalty before Scotland finally got some tangible attacking joy, Webster dancing through, Vincent Clerc-style in his new orange boots, for a 53rd-minute score teed up for the wing-turned-centre by his midfield partner, Henderson.
Paterson converted but that was as good as it got for Scotland. Just after the hour, Ulster wing Tommy Bowe finished off a sweeping Irish counter-attack in the right corner, one featuring a sublime flick-pass by O'Gara. Then, with a minute of regulation time left, Bowe bagged a second in the same spot.
By that time, Scotland were down to 14 men. Their replacements had all been utilised before Jim Hamilton departed with a suspected broken leg with five minutes remaining. They have much repair work to do before they face England, let alone visit Rome on the 15th of next month – which just happens to be the Ides of March.Reuse content