Byline: by SHANE McGRATH
DECLAN KIDNEY was yesterday asked why Scotland have given Ireland so many difficulties in recent seasons. 'They are just a good side,' said Kidney, and that answer now makes a lot of sense.
There was a time, not so long ago, when it wouldn't have cut it. Ireland beat Scotland seven times in a row over a five-year period between 2003 and 2007, and indeed have only lost three times to them since losing a World Cup warm-up match four and a half years ago; they have lost just one Six Nations game to Scotland since victory in Murrayfield in March 2003.
'I remember being with Eddie [O'Sullivan] and we were over in Murrayfield and we got a win,' Kidney said, recalling that day. 'I think it was our first win in Murrayfield in about 20 years, so that's only eight years ago.'
That 2003 triumph was actually their first win in Scotland in 18 years, dating back to the Triple Crown year of 1985, but the point holds -- Ireland have no real historical reason for considering Scotland anything but equals.
Recent history cannot be ignored, even if Kidney's psychology can look at any opposition and see nothing but All Blacks towering before him. That seven-game streak in the last decade was interrupted by an August warm-up match, and the last meeting between the teams was another World Cup limbloosener, even if Scotland celebrated their late victory with unlikely gusto that Saturday.
The Scots have been overcome, then, but only with great difficulty, and two years ago not at all. The last rugby match at Croke Park was made thoroughly miserable by a Scottish victory that denied Ireland a Triple Crown.
The home team began that match as if determined to run the Scots ragged with a style filched from sevens rugby. They ended it ground down by the visitors' cuteness and discipline.
They come back to Dublin on Six Nations duty a better side than they were that day; they are now a team deserving of respect, not because of traditional stickiness, but because Andy Robinson, after a long period of settlement, is finally establishing a decent team with threats in the tight and out wide.
They are just the kind of opponent, in fact, to test Ireland's appetite and systems after the muddled feelings wrought by a draw in Paris. It was asked in these pages earlier this week just what type of side Ireland are; the one that dominated France for 40 minutes, or the one that became stretched and fatally shapeless against Wales?
This is the day we find out. Scotland have smart half-backs linking a strong, hard-working pack and a back line that promises plenty but whose failure to deliver has been the team's biggest problem this spring. Ireland will need to engage them in every facet of play and win those battles to secure the victory. …