Friday, March 09, 2007

Irish to Crush Rebellious Scots

So where were we? Ah yes, Scotland! Murrayfield, formerly graveyard of Irish hopes, now a biennial source of Six Nations Championship victories. Where once the Scots were as miserly with championship points as reputedly in fiscal matters, now they ply their Irish guests with away victories like an Edinburgh barman dispensing Glenlivet.

On the face of it only negligence of the highest order on the part of the Irish team and a flawless display from the home side would seem to be able to prevent another victory for the visitors tomorrow. Given that Scotland's defeat to Italy last time out contained more flaws in the first seven minutes than the Irish team have exhibited in three full games so far, Ireland's seventh straight win over the Scots seems likely.

One consolation for the Scots is that, had they handed Ireland the three early opportunities they did to Italy, they might not have been punished so severely given how slowly Ireland have started matches this term. They began the matches against Wales and France with all the urgency of surly teenagers who'd been told to tidy their bedrooms. In the latter case this lethargy proved terminal to a golden opportunity to win a first Grand Slam since 1948.

In fairness, although they went 3-0 down to England early on at Croke Park a fortnight ago, they responded quickly enough - and with sufficient gusto - to suggest that they had overcome the slow start problem.

One thing that might work against Ireland is the complete inability of any game to match the intensely emotional proceedings of two weekends ago, let alone a trip to down-on-their-luck Scotland. The Scots succumbed to a rugby version of Ally McLeod syndrome against Italy a fortnight ago.

McLeod, for those who don't remember one of the many less edifying episodes in Scottish football history, was Scotland's manager for the 1978 World Cup. He managed to whip the nation into frenzy of expectation when he optimistically claimed that he expected his squad to return from that tournament with "at least a medal". Of course his spectacular hubris proved calamitously misplaced when the Scots went out after the first round following a loss to Peru, a draw with Iran and, in the true tradition of glorious Scottish failure, a win over tournament favourites the Netherlands.

Anyway, back to Murrayfield two weeks ago. Scotland, following an impressive win over Wales (impressive at least in terms of their forward play; their backs proved as penetrative as guerkin cutting through granite) were feeling pretty good about themselves, and the visit of Italy seemed to provide an perfect opportunity to further burnish their form.

Not content to redeploy the hard rucking and solid set-piece policy that did for the Welsh (against an admittedly stronger pack), they reached for the weapon in their armoury called "expansive back play" and set it to "attack from deep". In a repeat of McLeod's misplaced confidence, it blew up in their faces.

Of course the other thing that this story underlines is that the Scots are infinitely better underdogs than they are favourites. Much like Ireland used to, Scotland look dismissively and uninterestedly on favouritism; it bores them. Tell a Scot he has nae chance and he's painting his face blue quicker than you can say "freedom!".

So they'll have a good go tomorrow, and will pester Ireland incessantly at the breakdown, but a couple of line-breaks from Ireland's centre pairing should see them quickly hung, drawn and quartered.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

after mature reflection... jaysis. a triple crown was once something to celebrate.

9:49 a.m.  

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