Ireland 20 Scotland 23

Charlie Mulqueen, Croke Park
DANNY boy turned out to be a Scot at Croke Park on Saturday as Ireland’s dream of a fifth Triple Crown in seven years was shattered by a magnificent kicking display by the visitors out-half Dan Parks.

He knocked over 18 of his side’s 23 points with his unerring right boot, the winner coming in the last minute from Ireland’s left hand touch line. So Scotland avoided the dreaded “wooden spoon” and nobody should begrudge them their victory. Given that this was the last international at Croke Park for the foreseeable future and they were spoiling Ireland’s chance of another crown, they were the party poopers of all party poopers but in truth they deserved everything they got for this aggressive, in your face performance.

It could be argued that Ireland outscored them by two tries to one but here, too, the Scots could fairly claim there was a forward pass to Brian O’Driscoll for the first and Tommy Bowe may not have properly touched down for the second. More pertinently, however, was the number of mistakes, many of them unforced, that Ireland made. Line-out throws were crooked or overthrown by a completely out of touch Rory Best and almost every member of the side was guilty of a fumble or a mistimed pass.

Indeed, Ireland began the game with a series of intricate attacks that would have torn the Scots to shreds - if they hadn’t made so many elementary errors. In the opening five minutes alone Tommy Bowe threw a poor pass, Gordon D’Arcy and Rory Best fumbled and Jonny Sexton had an attempted clearance charged down!

And even their tenth minute try, superbly and all as it was executed, contained a forward scoring pass from Sexton to Brian O’Driscoll who wasn’t complaining as he touched down for his 39th international try in his 101st Test. Sexton converted and even though Dan Parks had earlier landed a Scottish penalty, this seemed to herald a period of Irish supremacy.

Such, however, was far from the case. Ireland continued with their quicky, snappy routine but their handling was awful at times and their passing on occasions just as bad. Could nerves have been affecting their play as they went in search of a fifth Triple Crown in seven years?

The Scots, on the other hand, had travelled over intent on avoiding the dreaded “wooden spoon” and played with their hearts and their heads. They were back in the lead after fourteen minutes when Cian Healy was robbed on the Cusack Stand side of the pitch and livewire number eight Johnnie Beattie was in the van of a stirring counter attack. He showed his athleticism in stretching to score and even though Parks couldn’t converted, he did land a penalty and a drop goal to send Scotland in leading 14-7 at half time.

It was an advantage they fully merited and left serious questions hanging over the Irish going into the second period. And boy did the remain unanswered for a very long time. Even the management team, so astute in everything they had done prior to this, managed to embarrass itself when trying to send Ronan O’Gara into the fray just as Ireland were awarded a penalty. Confusion reigned with Sexton clearly unwilling to come off before eventually referee Jonathan Kaplan waved O’Gara away, leaving Sexton to face the biggest pressure kick of his career. To his credit, he put it between the sticks and was then replaced by O’Gara. Ireland finally drew level with another dodgy try by Tommy Bowe - it looked like he might have lost control before touching down in the right corner. Either way, O’Gara wasn’t worrying as he landed a truly magnificent conversion from the right hand touch line.

And yet the Scots were back in front with another Parks penalty in the 73rd minute only for O’Gara for the umpteenth time in his great career to show a steely never and level the scores again with a penalty kick. There were still five minutes remaining for Ireland to get the points that would gain them the coveted crown but instead it was man of the match Parks who finally crushed the dream with a superb touch line penalty to see the Scots home by 23-20.

IRELAND - G. Murphy; T. Bowe, B.O’Driscoll capt, G. D’Arcy, K. Earls; J. Sexton, T. O’Leary; C. Healy, R. Best, J. Hayes, D. O’Callaghan, P. O’Connell, S. Ferris, D. Wallace, J. Heaslip.

Replacements: R. Kearney for Murphy (inj., 26); R. O’Gara for Sexton (51); T. Buckley for Hayes (79).

SCOTLAND - H. Southwell; S. Lamont, Luca, G. Morrison, M. Evans; D. Parks, C. Cusiter; A. Jacobsen, R. Ford, E. Murray, J. Hamilton, A, Kellock, K. Brown, J. Barclay, J. Beattie.

Replacements: J. Hamilton for Gray 52.

Referee - J. Kaplan (South Africa).