Billy Connolly tells a story of a time he was in the docks and one of the older dockers, who had a dreadful cough, spent a huge amount of time coughing and hacking up phlegm and other goodies. As they passed the graveyard, after another afternoon spent giving out about his cough, he pointed to the cemetery and said, "You see that graveyard, loads of people in there would love to have my cough".
Triple Crown, we will take it now please, thank you very much. It only means something to you when you don't have it. Ireland would have settled for one long before the season started. For Christ's sakes, it had been written into the history books that we had won the Triple Crown for 2010. It was certainly one of the most deflating international experiences I have watched and no better team to supply a surprise like this than our old friends. If you were Scottish, I would suggest Blueberry Hill wasn't the place to be yesterday. There wasn't too many of them at Croker but they got a sense that there was an upset from the very start.
From the off Ireland managed to string together as many line breaks in five minutes as they usually would in an entire match and rather disconcertingly had lost that surgical precision and clinical efficiency which would see them convert most of those. They got their first one after 50 seconds – Bowe in midfield scooted past Kellock and as Parks came across, his pass to Earls was pacey and inconsiderate yet catchable. Earls, in the form that he is in, could have strolled to the tryline.
Seconds later, from one of these multiple wraparound movements which the Irish midfield were stringing together for fun, O'Driscoll amazingly knocked it on. There were a number of handling errors which followed thereafter which were very uncharacteristic. Maybe they were handing out some Teflon in the dressing room beforehand. This was a different Ireland side and they weren't sitting back on the ropes and absorbing pressure. Maybe, God forbid, they were looking to catch that 50-point gap before the English and the French got down to it in Paris.
When Ireland did eventually score, they looked razor sharp. Off scrum ball Sexton looped around D'Arcy and glided through when he received the reciprocal pass. He did what O'Gara does not have the confidence, physical ability or skill set to do. Just like in Twickenham, for Tommy Bowe's first try, he held the ball out in two hands, and dummied the feed to Hugo Southwell, who had come in to close down space. But it was Cusiter who bought it and he slipped on his arse as the feed went to O'Driscoll with Southwell caught square and flat-footed. Ireland, at this stage, were on fire but Scotland managed to jam a try as Brown got loose and the ball found its way to Beattie. He did surprisingly well to hold off three tacklers which included Paul O'Connell's attempt.
Scotland managed to shake off some of the withering ineptitude they displayed in the English game and they soaked up a huge amount of time in possession. Ireland, once again, have not cured themselves of this penalty-concession disease and they were profligate and a little too loose as they got caught up with the Scots' helter-skelter game and went into half-time at 14-7 down.
This will be forever known as the 'Head and Shoulders' international. It is unclear which of Newton's three laws of motion keeps Jonathan Kaplan's ears apart. He had a reasonable performance yesterday but his interpretation at scrum-time was a masterclass in time-wasting and needless time spent resetting and re-engaging scrums on both sides. It is rare that there have been so many resets, free-kicks and penalties from one phase of play in one match in the Championship. It suited Scotland. They didn't get involved in the semantics of playing football and they enjoyed, nay revelled, in the time soaked up by this phase of play. Ireland got bogged down with it and rarely got to use any quality ball off scrum time.
That is not to say that Ireland played well. When they started off in the first 10 minutes they were sex on a stick. But they had a serious malfunction at line-out time. Kidney was reluctant to take Rory Best off but three crooked throws and three over-throws, at the back, picked off every time by John Barclay, did serious damage to Ireland's chances of a bit of front foot activity.
It was all self-inflicted pain, but when Ireland did manage to secure some decent line-out ball, the Scots were waiting for Tomás O'Leary and Tommy Bowe coming around the side.
Ireland, too, struggled at the breakdown and our back-row was matched, if not bettered, by their Scottish counterparts. The balance of the game was decided by the three 10s who took the field. It is a sad reflection on the standard of the Championship that Dan Parks should win three Man-of-the-Match awards – against England, Wales and then Ireland. In some of the games that I have seen him play in the Magners League, he has been as useful as a one-armed trapeze artist with an itchy arse. He is a club player at very best. There are some things he can do and those were demonstrated yesterday. He can kick and he kicked well. He had a little bit more influence and probably some better ball to work with than his Irish counterparts.
Scotland, as usual, had a constipation of ideas in midfield but managed to hang onto the ball and deny Ireland the initiative or a chance to go through the phases. As Ireland stuttered, Parks was on hand to take his opportunities and his match-winning kick, which looked like it was drifting left, came back in again to finish Ireland off.
A disastrous match and one which was exacerbated in the 50th minute by O'Gara's introduction instead of Sexton which will have, once again, thrown the team into an unexpected chasm. Quite a few players will have to examine their performances yesterday which were well off par – not least Kearney's stupidity at the very end. You can't blame Scotland for taking advantage.