Scotland comeback against Ireland pleases coach
After being down 8-0 in second half to Ireland, Scottish players stage turnaround likened to Ali’s ‘rope-a-dope’ strategy
Scotland's Australian interim head coach Scott Johnson jokingly compared his side to boxing great Muhammad Ali after they came from behind to see off Ireland 12-8 in the Six Nations at Murrayfield.
Ireland had more than 70 per cent territory and possession in Sunday's match and led 8-0 early in the second half after wing Craig Gilroy scored the only try of the game.
But from then on, Scotland eventually made their scrum superiority and forward dominance count, providing a platform for fly-half Greig Laidlaw to kick all of their points with four penalties in a 100 per cent return.
By contrast 21-year-old debutant Ireland fly-half Paddy Jackson, in for the injured Jonathan Sexton, only landed one of his four goal-kicks.
When Ali beat George Foreman in the "Rumble in the Jungle" in Zaire in 1974, thereby regaining the world heavyweight title, he backed himself onto the ropes in the early rounds and allowed his opponent to punch himself out before delivering the knockout blow.
Scotland's initial approach to Sunday's match was anything but as deliberate as Ali's celebrated strategy and they were lucky to be just 3-0 behind at half-time after Ireland spurned a couple of try-scoring chances.
"At half-time I was thinking it was like Ali-Foreman, lulling them into some false sense of security, my neck was getting sore looking down one side of the pitch," said Johnson, now the first Scotland coach since Ian McGeechan in 2001 to oversee back-to-back Six Nations wins.
This victory, coupled with a 34-10 defeat of Italy, left Scotland level on points with second-placed Wales and only two behind Grand Slam-chasers England.
Johnson acknowledged Scotland had ridden their luck against an Ireland side who, even though they were missing four players through injury, should have killed the game off before half-time.
"I kept talking about how the wins will come when we get our part right, this time we got the win without getting our part right," said Johnson.
"Let's put our qualities together with the strong character we showed today [Sunday]. There wasn't much to like as a rugby coach, but a lot to like as a person," added the Australian.
Meanwhile Scotland captain Kelly Brown insisted the side would have to raise their game against Wales at Murrayfield on March 9.
"We know we need to improve because if we play like that against Wales, we won't win that game," said the Saracens flanker. "I'm just glad we've given the Scottish fans who have suffered for a long time something to cheer."
Jackson's previous taste of the big stage saw him substituted early in the second half of Ulster's 42-14 European Cup final defeat by Irish rivals Leinster at Twickenham in May.
On Sunday, he lasted until the 64th minute before Ireland coach Declan Kidney brought Ronan O'Gara off the bench only for the veteran fly-half to be denied a goalkicking chance.
"Paddy's general play was good. He helped us get a few line breaks and his kicks down the line put us in a good field position," Kidney said.
"His place-kicking didn't go the way he would have liked, but some days go like that."
For Ireland this was a second straight defeat following a 12-6 loss at home to England and experienced lock Donncha O'Callaghan admitted: "This will dent our confidence and we must be honest with each other.
"We're not at Test level to learn, but to win," the Munster and British and Irish Lions second row added. "When you have that much possession, you have to come away with more."
Next up for Ireland is a match at home to winless France, much improved in a 23-13 defeat by England at Twickenham on Saturday.
"We badly need a result and to get to the Aviva Stadium," said O'Callaghan.