What goes around, comes around
March 20, 2010
Kelly Brown, Dan Parks and Chris Cusiter celebrate victory © Getty Images
Scotland's victory at Croke Park brought the story of Ireland's stay at the home of the Gaelic Athletic Association full circle. In 2007 the villain for the home crowd was the fleet-footed French wing Vincent Clerc, who stole away victory in the first game at Croker in the dying seconds, and in 2010 it was Scottish pivot Dan Parks.
Irish fans will look back on their time on the other side of Dublin with great fondness following their 2009 Grand Slam but it will always be a memory tinged with a sense of what could have been, if not for these late shows. In 2007 the prize lost was a clean sweep, three years later a Triple Crown.
Ireland have been the second-best side in this year's Six Nations by some distance, with their combination of clinical backs, ironclad defence and a towering lineout beginning to resemble, whisper it, England under Clive Woodward. A dismal Wales side were swatted aside with nonchalance last weekend but if Ireland thought that an 80% performance would have been sufficient to see-off wooden spoon favourites Scotland they were sorely mistaken.
In a parallel universe, one where Shane Williams doesn't score miraculous last-minute tries and England don't suck the life out of games, Scotland could have been after a Triple Crown of their own. Theirs is a team built on guts and preparation, with Andy Robinson having crafted a superb set-piece in his time in charge.
Much has been written about their 'Killer Bs' back-row and Kelly Brown, John Barclay and Johnnie Beattie deserve every plaudit coming their way. The Irish loose trio, Stephen Ferris, David Wallace and Jamie Heaslip, all wore the red of the Lions last season but came under pressure in every facet of the game from the Glasgow boys. Whether Brown's imminent move to Saracens affects their potency as a unit remains to be seen.
After a mixed start Scotland won the lineout and scrum battle, allowing them to keep in touch and eventually punish an underperforming Irish side. Their counter-ruck was a thing of precision rather than brute force and paved the way for a number of vital turnovers in their own territory. Parks, a Marmite figure to many fans, deserved his day in the sun and provided the stability in open play and from the tee that Jonathan Sexton was unable to for Ireland.
Sexton crafted Brian O'Driscoll's try with an intelligent loop move and a dab on the gas to leave Graeme Morrison clutching at thin air, but his profligacy from the kicking tee will begin to worry Kidney soon enough. Ronan O'Gara slotted his kicks when on the field, but did not offer the incisive spark that his young counterpart can. It's quite a conundrum but one that can be sorted with a few hours on the training field - remember Sexton's displays in the Heineken Cup final for Leinster or in his November Test appearances.
Progress is a term that has been tainted with the dreaded PR brush, but that's exactly what Scotland are making. In Dublin they were positive and asked far more questions of the Irish defence than England, Italy and Wales. There are several players missing through injury, including their main weapons in Chris Paterson and Thom Evans, and theirs will be a happy camp despite some setbacks during this campaign.
For Ireland the picture is plain. They have a strong, settled squad and showed again with their tries that their backs can carve through any defence. Tommy Bowe has joined the elite wingers in the world since his excursion with the Lions and Keith Earls is maturing at a rate of knots as a possible successor to O'Driscoll. They need new blood at tight-head but have maturing options in the back-row and second-row. The World Cup is a little way away yet, but it's a job of refining rather then re-inventing for Kidney.
Scotland are looking up for the first time in a couple of seasons and have a fearsome task in managing their miniscule player pool. Robinson seems up for the challenge though, and few would begrudge them success.
Huw Baines is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
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