Scotland induce aversion therapy

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The Independent Online
reports from Lansdowne Road

Ireland 10 Scotland 16

Scotland's canny performance, which once again stymied a potential Irish uprising, was cool, calm and calculated. What might worry France, the Five Nations favourites and next up at Murrayfield on 3 February, is the post- match comment of Rob Wainwright, Scotland's hugely impressive captain. "We can improve upon that dramatically," he said.

Scotland had already achieved the chameleon-like feat in making themselves unrecognisable from the sluggish displays against Western Samoa and Italy and further change would indeed be remarkable. In any case it was thoroughly professional in every sense and perhaps we should not have been surprised.

No longer, of course, are they playing just for the Flower of Scotland but for real dough and every win has a financial bonus. Given the Caledonian reputation for having a healthy respect for the colour of money, there is no saying how far Scotland can go.

They are now under the autocratic rule of Jim Telfer, a man who believes in applying an iron fist in a plutonium glove. Telfer, in effect, is the chief executive of Scotland plc and is said to be on pounds 70,000 a year. What he needs to be wary of is how far, even in the professional era, he can push his players. On Friday, for example, they were not allowed to watch the A match between the countries, not even allowed to leave the hotel.

One of the most significant differences between the sides on Saturday was in the performance of the stand-offs Gregor Townsend and Eric Elwood. Two years ago, same fixture, same venue, similarly horrible conditions, the game ended 6-6, neither side exploiting the wind. Townsend, who is 22, has improved immeasurably. Elwood is, well, Elwood. Strict comparison is unfair because Townsend was playing behind a better pack and a better scrum-half in Bryan Redpath.

Even so Elwood's game is limited and predictable. Town-send's is neither. Notwithstanding the fact that the Varsity match is a long way removed from international rugby, Ireland should go for David Humphreys who was outstanding in every respect for Oxford University against Cambridge last month.

As for Townsend, he can only get better. He plays centre for Northampton because of the presence of the England stand-off Paul Grayson and what an interesting reunion they should have when England go to Edinburgh. Townsend is, refreshingly, prepared to take on defences and it was his break, midway through the first half, that led to Michael Dods's try.

Gabriel Fulcher, who is joining London Irish in March, had a hand in Scotland's first try, deflecting the ball over his own line and Kevin McKenzie, another star in the making, was the first to react. That score highlighted Ireland's lack of control. Scotland probably won 90 per cent of the 50-50 ball.

Ireland's gamble of playing into the wind in the first half appeared lost when, just before half-time, Townsend dropped a goal. There have not been many better. Townsend is a useful golfer with a handicap of nine and it was as if he was drawing a six-iron. The kick, launched to the right of the posts, was perfectly executed, coming in on the wind. "He did all the things we expected him to do," Murray Kidd, Ireland's New Zealand coach said, "but not that drop goal."

When Ireland reduced the deficit with a stirring try to make it 16-10 at half-time, the eyes were smiling. And nothing happened. The Irish did not get a second wind, Elwood, who missed a couple of penalties, put up one useless high ball and the onslaught only came at the end when Ireland were playing for a penalty try at a scrum that began to resemble the Eton wall game. Both front rows would give you six different versions of what happened - "we were doing our tricks, they were doing theirs," said Dave Hilton - but the referee earned his fee of pounds 400 and as Jim Staples, Ireland's captain, honourably pointed out, "if we had got a penalty try to win the match it would have been theft."

Perhaps, under Kidd, Ireland have lost the hell for leather card but that was never enough to sustain them through a campaign. At the end, when the Irish players sat in a quiet dressing-room, elbows on knees, heads in hands, Kidd, applying aversion therapy, told them to remember how wretched the moment feels. Ireland know it only too well.

Ireland: Try: Clohessy; Conversion Elwood; Penalty Elwood. Scotland: Tries McKenzie, Dods; Penalty Dods; Drop goal Townsend.

IRELAND: J Staples (Harlequins,capt); R Wallace (Garryowen), J Bell (Northampton), K McQuilkin (Bective Rangers), S Geoghegan (Bath); E Elwood (Lansdowne), C Saverimutto (Sale); N Popplewell (Newcastle), T Kingston (Dolphin), P Clohessy (Young Munster), G Fulcher (Constitution), N Francis (Old Belvedere), J Davidson (Dungannon), P Johns (Dungannon), D Corkery (Constitution).

SCOTLAND: R Shepherd (Melrose); C Joiner (Melrose), S Hastings (Watsonians), I Jardine (Stirling County), M Dods (Northampton); G Townsend (Northampton), B Redpath (Melrose); D Hilton (Bath), K McKenzie (Stirling County), P Wright (Boroughmuir), S Campbell (Dundee HSFP), G Weir (Melrose), R Wainwright (Watsonians,capt), E Peters (Bath), I Smith (Gloucester).

Referee: B Campsall (England).

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