Ireland Club International team 20, Scotland Club International team 15
A late rally saw Scotland come perilously close to repeating their victory in last year's club international. But at Donnybrook, Dublin, tonight a pass that slipped out of Rory Couper’s grasp as the Scots staged a grandstand finish deep in injury time, enabled Ireland to close out a keenly contested match. The Scots’ coach, Ian Rankin, was right to praise the monumental effort of his players, whose response to a 12-Ireland hold out despite Scots' late rallypoint deficit late in the last quarter, spoke much for their attitude.
"I don’t think they could have given much more," he reasoned, and we were just one pass away at the end.” Once again Scotland, just as had been witnessed in the earlier club international this month against the Welsh, had willing and threatening running from both their wings, Couper and Marc Teague, a real zip about the service from scrum-half Richard Snedden and a dynamic contribution from everyone that was introduced from the substitutes bench.
Where the Scots ran into difficulty was the large portions of the match when Ireland dominated possession through their big, physical pack, allied to some fine fly-half skill from Barry Keeshan. But it would be unfair not to acknowledge some silky running too from Irish wing Cronan Healy. The Scots’ discipline might also have been better, conceding some downright stupid penalties in the second-half.
The visitors opened in cavalier fashion as from Angus Martyn’s quickly taken second-minute tap penalty, ball was moved left only for Damien Kelly to be crash tackled at the corner flag.
Scotland continued to play the game at an upbeat tempo and from another tap penalty - triggered by Sean Crombie’s charge - Ireland were penalised for not retiring ten metres and Andrew Skeen stepped up to goal the opening points.
Ireland replied with a 12th minute try off a scrum free-kick and blistering full-back intrusion for Max McDonald to touch down on the left. Keeshan missed the conversion but his 17th minute penalty, the first of his five successes, bequeathed the hosts an 8-3 lead.
Scotland were quick to substantiate the impression that they wanted to play the game at pace with width and when Couper counter-attacked up the middle, Graham Thomson linked before releasing Teague with a sweetly timed pass for the battling winger to do what he does best and scream up the touchline for a cracking try.
Skeen could not convert and the Scots’ concentration deserted them on receipt of the kick-off as Ireland pirated ball and though Snedden valiantly tackled Irish hooker Damien Varley, a Scots hand in the ruck saw Keeshan claim a very soft three points.
In first-half injury time Irish flanker Simon Crawford was rather harshly yellow carded for slowing up ball at the breakdown just inside his own 10-metre line but Skeen’s penalty was just short leaving the Scots trailing 8-11 at the break.
Dougie Brown was introduced for Malcolm Clapperton at the restart and the bustling centre had one of the best games your correspondent has seen from him, purposeful and direct. However, before Ireland were restored to full complement, Keeshan had added two penalties, the second of which also saw Bruce McNeil yellow carded for a high tackle on Healy.
While Scotland were short-handed they did produce a superb attack where Teague beat his man on the outside after being released by Stephen Ruddick. Ruddick took the return pass and Brown carried on at pace only to be denied four metres out. Alas the lineout went awry and the chance was lost.
Keeshan’s fifth penalty just inside the last quarter seemed to have Ireland home and hosed at 20-8 but Scotland had other ideas and with Graeme Dodds and George Oommen bringing fresh legs to the match there was time for a dramatic twist. Teague and Oommen threatened on the right and when Scotland worked ball back left Ruddick manufactured a pass under intense pressure to Dodds who ploughed over. Ruddick converted and Scotland were trailing by five points.
In injury time Dodds careered powerfully up the right with Colin Goudie supporting and Ireland killed ball five metres out. The referee decided a penalty to Scotland and a yellow card to Irish substitute Peter Malone. Had it been a Guinness Premiership match might he have awarded a penalty try under such circumstances. . .? In any event, Scotland appeared to have the nudge on in the scrum for which they opted against Ireland’s seven man pack but ball was spun left to the backs and Couper couldn’t quite hold a long miss-two pass as he sniffed a last-gasp winner.
Ireland Club International team: David McKechnie; Cronan Healy, Greg Stafford, Eric Moloney, Max McDonald; Barry Keeshan, Ruairi Cushion; Martin Gately, Damien Varley, Simon Shawe, Alan Maher captain, Shane O’Connor, Simon Crawford, Hugh Hogan, John O’Connor. Subs: Des Murray, Rob Sweeney, Merle O Connell, Peter Malone, Sam Cronin, Alan Kinsley, Andrew Finn
Scotland Club International team: Stephen Ruddick (Boroughmuir); Marc Teague (Heriot’s), Graham Thomson (Dundee HSFP), Malcolm Clapperton, Rory Couper (both Boroughmuir); Andrew Skeen (Watsonians), Richard Snedden (Currie); Bruce McNeil (Heriot’s), Sean Crombie (Boroughmuir), Jon Welsh (GHA), Damien Kelly (Ayr), Andy Adam (Currie), Tam McVie (Heriot’s) CAPTAIN, Ross Weston (Currie), Angus Martyn (Boroughmuir). Subs: Dougie Brown (Watsonians) for Clapperton (40 mins), Garry Mountford (Stirling County) for McVie (54 mins), McVie for McNeil (59 mins), Graeme Dodds (Melrose) for McVie and George Oommen (Dundee HSFP) for Martyn (both 63 mins), Pat MacArthur (Ayr) for Crombie (70 mins), Greg Cottrell (Boroughmuir) for Skeen (73 mins), Colin Goudie (Heriot’s) for Teague (78 mins).