Paterson the lion in home guard's wounded pride

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The Independent Online

If only Scotland had 15 players of the quality and dangerous attacking potential of Chris Paterson.

If only Scotland had 15 players of the quality and dangerous attacking potential of Chris Paterson.

In a Six Nations' game that pitted two of the possible British Lions full-backs in competition, Paterson looked a player of fine skill and no little danger. To do that on a day when those in front of him failed so completely to build on their early success was no small achievement.

Paterson is a full-back in the classic traditions of Scottish full-backs. Men like Ken Scotland and Andy Irvine were fine performers, the latter most particularly with his running from broken play. Who can forget his exciting, weaving runs, tongue set between the lips, which so often cut opposition defences to ribbons? In those days, Irvine was in Scottish teams which could hold their own up front and make serious dents in their opponents' defensive structures. That much was an immense advantage, for Paterson has never enjoyed such a luxury during his international career.

Yet even at Murrayfield yesterday, after Ireland had transformed an early 8-0 deficit into a comprehensive 28-8 advantage, Paterson continued to exude class and composure. His weaving runs, based on rapid changes of direction in his running lines, confused opponents and found space where none had seemed to exist.

Of course, full-backs in the modern, defensively orientated game, expect to make breaks of 20 or 30 metres if they are lucky, rather than the 50-60 metre stormers intuitive attackers like Irvine could achieve. But any break in the modern game is riches to an attacking side and it will be a source of enduring frustration to the Scotland coach, Matt Williams, that he cannot forge a forward platform of sufficient power, nor establish a half-back pairing capable of dominating a game. To put it brutally, Scotland's forwards were blown away yesterday by the Irish eight.

Given that state of affairs, you cannot but admire Paterson's continuing threat with ball in hand, and wonder what he could do behind a strong British and Irish Lions side. Geordan Murphy and Jason Robinson might be regarded as in front of him in the queue for the Lions Test side, but Robinson might play wing anyway, and at Murrayfield yesterday Paterson measured up well enough against Murphy.

But Paterson could do nothing to alter the course of this match for Ireland's forwards, increasingly powerful and direct, took charge of the game and smashed Scotland out of it. To win a Grand Slam, you must show not just quality but the ability to dig deep, to bare your collective teeth in adversity and to demonstrate spirit and self-belief.

From the poorest of starts - and Ireland were awful in the first quarter - Eddie O'Sullivan's men answered their doubters in emphatic style. They totally undermined the early Scottish dominance with a series of driven mauls that nailed the Scots as decisively as a stake to the heart of Dracula.

Scotland found themselves crushed by the work of the Irish pack, the spearhead of which were the lock forwards Paul O'Connell and Malcolm O'Kelly. The latter scored the first try to set Ireland on their way, on the day he beat Mike Gibson's record to become the most capped Irishman in history, with 70 caps.

What this Irish performance also did was prove that they can play without Brian O'Driscoll. Their awful start might have suggested otherwise, but the character of the team shone through for the remainder of an increasingly depressing day for the home nation. All the hope they had taken from Paris - falsely, in my view, because France were so poor, any decent side would have beaten them on the day - was blown away by Ireland's forward supremacy.

For Scotland, more sad times in the wilderness beckon until they can find men up front able to dominate a game. But yesterday was about Ireland and the talk of Edinburgh last night was their growing challenge for a first Grand Slam in 57 years.

Can they do it? With O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy to come back and the strength of this pack, Ireland are probably closer to their long held ambition than for decades.