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Rugby | Six Nations

Scott Johnson © Gallo Images

'Rope-a-dope' Scotland delight Johnson



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 flyhalf Greig Laidlaw to kick all of their points with four penalties in a 100 per cent return.

By contrast 21-year-old debutant Ireland flyhalf 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 halftime after Ireland spurned a couple of try-scoring chances.

"Halftime 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, for all they were missing four players through injury, should have killed the game off before halftime.

"I kept talking about how the wins will come when we get out part right, this time we got the win without getting out part right," said Johnson, promoted from within the Scotland set-up following Andy Robinson's resignation after the shock loss to Tonga in November.

"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, who had a brief stint as caretaker Wales head coach in 2006.

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 flyhalf 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. It's too easy to point the finger at 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 territory and 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. "We need to get home and find what we need."

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