A poor first half performance cost Scotland their grip on Rugby League’s European Championship title after an agonising 24-22 defeat to Ireland, according to head coach Steve McCormack.
The Bravehearts conceded an early try to Luke Ambler and were 18-4 down at half-time at Galashiels, Danny Addy getting Scotland’s sole score, only to launch a stirring second half comeback to actually take the lead with less than 20 minutes to go.
A late try by Ireland’s Scott Grix levelled the scores and Wolfhounds’ skipper Liam Finn kicked the winning conversion.
“The first half killed us,” admitted McCormack, whose team won the European title for the first time last year.
“It was a case of déjà vu. We did that last week in Wales and last year at Gala against France. You can’t afford to start games like that in international rugby league.
“It was a very disappointing night. In the second half we played the way we had wanted to play from the start: good, vibrant, tough rugby. But we’d left ourselves too much to do.”
In a thrilling second half, a second try to Addy, a debut try for winger Shane Toal, and a solo effort by forward Dale Ferguson - all three converted by skipper Danny Brough - saw Scotland nudge 22-18 ahead. The Bravehearts, who had lost 18-12 to Wales last Friday, kept Ireland scoreless until eight minutes from time when Huddersfield full-back Grix broke away to score.
The Scots can pinpoint an incident a few minutes earlier which changed the game. London Broncos’ winger Alex Walker, on only his second appearance, reached out for the try-line through a clutch of defenders and touched the ball down. Referee Chris Kendall of England ruled no try, but video replays suggest the tip of the ball rolled onto the line and a try would have been given had the game been using the video official system.
Walker was one of eight Scotland players aged 21 or younger in the team, including local debutant Lewis Clarke, who plays union for Gala RFC and league for Edinburgh Eagles, as McCormack gave opportunities to youngsters emerging from the Scotland Under-19s squad.
“A lot of players who have come through the player pathway really stepped up, especially in the second half,” said McCormack, who coaches at Super League giants Wigan Warriors.
“That experience will be vital for them in years to come. There were an awful lot of positives to take from the game but we don’t want to be gallant losers – those days have gone for Scotland Rugby League.”
Scotland end their campaign in Avignon against France on 7 November. A victory on Friday would have kept Scotland in contention but now the winners of Wales v France - both unbeaten so far - at Cardiff Arms Park this Friday will be firm favourites to lift the cup.
Scotland: David Scott (Doncaster), Shane Toal (Barrow Raiders), Ben Hellewell (London Broncos), Richard Harris (Warrington Wolves), Alex Walker (London Broncos), Danny Brough (Huddersfield Giants) (capt), Oscar Thomas (London Broncos), Ben Kavanagh (Widnes Vikings), Liam Hood (Salford Red Devils), Jonny Walker (Leigh Centurions), Sonny Esslemont (Hull KR), Dale Ferguson (Bradford Bulls), Danny Addy (Bradford Bulls). Subs: Joe McClean (Gloucestershire Old Golds), Corbyn Kilday (Central Queensland Capras), Lewis Clarke (Edinburgh Eagles), Harvey Burnett (unattached).
Tries: Addy (2), Toal, Ferguson; Goals: Brough (3).
Ireland: Scott Grix (Huddersfield Giants), Brad Hargreaves (Rochdale Hornets), James Mendeika (Bradford Bulls), Elliot Cosgrove (Batley Bulldogs), Casey Dunne (Longhorns RL), Ben Johnston (Halifax), Liam Finn (Castleford Tigers) (capt), Matty Hadden (Rochdale Hornets), Bob Beswick (Leigh Centurions), Luke Ambler (Halifax), Danny Bridge (Rochdale Hornets), Will Hope (Oldham Roughyeds), Oliver Roberts (Bradford Bulls). Subs: Callum Mulkeen (Gloucestershire All Golds), Graham O’Keeffe (Oxford RL), Joe Keyes (London Broncos), Sean Hesketh (Batley Bulldogs).
Tries: Ambler (2), Hargreaves, Grix; Goals: Finn (4)