O'Gara snuffs out Scotland's signs of life

Scotland 13 - Ireland 40
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The Independent Online

It is not a monkey that Scotland and their coach, Matt Williams, have on their back. The shadow of King Kong deepened the doom and gloom here yesterday, where Ireland ran out easy winners. In the end, it was overkill.

It is not a monkey that Scotland and their coach, Matt Williams, have on their back. The shadow of King Kong deepened the doom and gloom here yesterday, where Ireland ran out easy winners. In the end, it was overkill.

Despite leading 8-0 inside the first quarter, Scotland were swept aside by the force and teamwork of the Irish forwards and the effective kicking, either out of hand or at goal, of Ronan O'Gara. Ireland, unconvincing in their victory over Italy in Rome last week, responded with five tries here, and goodness only knows how many they might have got had the centres Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy not been hamstrung by injuries.

While Ireland join Wales at the top of the Six Nations table, Scotland, who were whitewashed in the championship last year, remain on course for a similar fate. Fourteen months and 14 matches into his reign, Williams has yet to see his adopted country register a Six Nations victory. And the manner in which they fell away here was dispiriting in the extreme.

Scotland got off to the most encouraging start when Jason White produced an astonishing run which could have resulted in a try after only two minutes. The flanker surged through the Irish defence, demolishing three would-be tacklers before offloading to his back row colleague Allister Hogg. The No 8 found himself in space 20 yards from the line but lacked the pace to make it.

Scotland failed to exploit the opportunity and a few minutes later their scrum-half, Chris Cusiter, had to leave the field for stitches to a head wound after catching the boot of Ronan O'Gara, who was putting in a clearing kick.

While Cusiter was receiving medical treatment, Scotland took the lead. Andy Craig made good progress in midfield and set up a penalty opportunity for Paterson as a fully stretched Irish defence infringed and the full-back made no mistake.

That was in the eighth minute and three minutes later Paterson brought Murrayfield to its feet by creating a quite brilliant try. O'Gara's cross kick to the right hand corner came to nothing and Scotland's drop out from the 22 found Denis Hickie deep inside the Irish half. Hickie put up a high ball which was fielded by Paterson and he set off on a run which saw him beat a host of green jerseys in midfield. When Paterson switched the angle of his attack to the right he released Craig who in turn found his co-centre Hugo Southwell and he had the speed and momentum to outstrip Shane Horgan.

Scotland should have gone further ahead but Parks, who had time and space, made a mess of a drop-goal attempt. Trailing by eight points, Ireland, with O'Gara finding his feet, came back into the match with a vengeance. O'Gara landed a penalty in the 18th minute and five minutes later they took the lead after what turned out to be an extremely expensive foul by White.

At a line-out inside the Irish half, White took out Malcolm O'Kelly and from the penalty O'Gara found touch a few yards from the Scottish line. From the line-out the Irish forward drove through their counterparts and when the rolling maul crashed over the line it was O'Kelly who had the last and loudest laugh.

O'Gara's conversion put Ireland in front and the stand-off increased their lead with another penalty after he had almost created a try for Horgan with a delicate chip to the left-hand corner.

Scotland made life difficult for themselves with some elementary errors and they fell further behind two minutes before half-time. Parks failed to find touch, O'Gara drove them back with a punishing touch finder and from a quickly taken free-kick, the men in green again proved too strong for the Scottish defence with the acting captain O'Connell going over. Ireland's lead should have been increased to 12 points but O'Gara struck an upright with his conversion attempt.

If Scotland were to make a match of it, it was imperative they scored early in the second half. Instead, the reverse happened. Hogg lost possession in the tackle close to his own line. And Ireland swiftly moved the ball to the left, Horgan flicked up a pass to O'Gara with the stand-off delivering an overhead pass to Hickie who dived over in the corner. O'Gara converted from the touchline, and things went from bad to worse for Scotland when once again Cusiter received man and ball and the result was a penalty to Ireland.

Trailing by 20 points, Scotland managed to put some phases together. Awarded a penalty in midfield, they elected to kick to touch, and, from a well-worked line-out move, Jon Petrie peeled around the front to smash over for a try, which was the signal for Scotland's most intense period of pressure.

However, they failed to crack the Irish defence, and somehow their hopelessness and haplessness peaked when, from a promising position, Cusiter's pass found, not a blue jersey, but the referee Joel Jutge. Although Horgan dropped a pass as Ireland, on the counter-attack, raced in a glorious opportunity, the visitors got their fourth in the 73rd minute when, of all people, the veteran prop John Hayes found himself on the overlap on the right wing, and crossed for a score that must have broken Scotland's hearts, if not their minds.

Sure enough, Scotland, after their brief show of resistance, were now in utter disarray, and when Ireland were presented with another attacking platform after the Scots had stifled possession in midfield, Horgan sent Gavin Duffy clear down the left flank. Duffy had only just come on as a replacement as Ireland enjoyed the luxury of giving their bench a run in the closing stages. David Humphreys, who had come on for O'Gara, added the conversion and what a splendid one it was. Not everybody at Murrayfield saw Ireland's flamboyant finish for many of the home supporters here had already begun to make their way home or to the nearest bar.

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