Six Nations preview: A look ahead to Ireland v Scotland at the Aviva Stadium
By Michael Cantillon
Last Updated: 12/03/18 2:05pm
Ireland welcome a confident Scotland side to Dublin in the Six Nations on Saturday (kick-off 2.15pm) as Joe Schmidt's men seek to keep their Grand Slam hopes alive. We look ahead to what promises to be an enthralling encounter...
Ireland's helter-skelter victory over Wales last time out was vital as they not only maintained their 100 per cent start to the Six Nations, but also earned a bonus-point win to firmly take charge at the top of the table.
Schmidt's side are on a run of 10 straight victories stretching back to their win over England in March, equalling the previous best under the New Zealander. Ireland have also failed to lose a single Six Nations home game under Schmidt in five campaigns.
But beware, in 2010 Ireland had gone to Twickenham and won, and beaten Wales, but let a Triple Crown slip at home to Scotland on the final weekend at Croke Park. The Scots have reigned on Irish hopes before.
A month back, you would have got good odds on Scotland still being involved in a Six Nations title hunt after they were annihilated by Wales in Cardiff on the opening weekend.
But, after superb victories over France and England at Murrayfield, Gregor Townsend's side remain firmly in the mix heading to the Aviva Stadium.
Scotland 27-22 Ireland, 4th February 2017
The last time these two nations faced each other came on the opening weekend of last season's Six Nations Championship, on a grim day for the men in green.
Having overcome New Zealand in sensational fashion that autumn in Chicago, Ireland headed into the competition with a quiet degree of confidence.
It all came crashing down in Edinburgh, however, as they arrived late due to a now infamous bus journey, and started the game horrendously: conceding three tries inside the first half hour - two for Stuart Hogg, one for Alex Dunbar.
From there, Ireland began to dominate and tries from Keith Earls, Iain Henderson and Paddy Jackson saw them take a remarkable 22-21 lead with less than 20 minutes to go.
But Ireland proceeded to lose the match all over again as two late Greig Laidlaw penalties confirmed a marvellous Scotland success.
Ireland - Conor Murray. Irish hearts were in mouths when scrum-half Murray went down in considerable discomfort with a knee injury against Wales a fortnight ago.
Fortunately, he defied what seemed a serious complaint to finish the game, and kick a crucial penalty off the tee on the way to victory.
Ireland play off Murray a lot in their forward attacks, and in tandem with Johnny Sexton, the Munsterman calls a fair share of attacking plays.
His kicking game is exceptional, sniping game lethal and defensive work invaluable. His fitness is key to any silverware quest.
Scotland - John Barclay. The Scarlets flanker had a field day on the ground against England last time out and if he is to enjoy the same dominance in Dublin, Scotland will be well-placed for another victory.
The skipper adapted to Nigel Owens' fairly loose interpretation of the new ruck laws outstandingly well and was, in many peoples eyes, the standout player on the pitch.
The battle between Barclay, Hamish Watson and Ryan Wilson - ably assisted by converted hooker Stuart McInally - against Peter O'Mahony, Dan Leavy and CJ Stander et al for breakdown rewards will be critical.
Ireland - Joe Schmidt: "You want to make sure you're tidy in your own department in the first place, but once you do allow them loose ball and you allow them time and space, I think they are incredibly dangerous.
"We know who and how they manage to do what they do. They transfer the ball really well through their midfield and as well as Finn Russell, Peter Horne is a really good distributor and it's no surprise to see him keep out Alex Dunbar, who is a super player for them
"On the edges, Hogg is such a threat and the kind of Super Rugby style they play makes Sean Maitland very potent on the counter attack and in those wider channels.
"I think there is a lot more to Scotland than breakdown work from John Barclay. It's too simplistic to say stop Barclay, and that will have a massive impact."
Scotland - Gregor Townsend: "Dublin's got to be up there with the toughest venues you can visit. Ireland are a top-three team in the world and they have a very good home record.
"There are not many, if any, weaknesses in their team, so you have to be at your best to win.
"There are a few things we have done to address our away form. We've discussed it as a group, with the leadership group, with individuals as well - we've had one-on-one meetings with everybody in the squad to talk about away games.
"We've had one blip, we've had one experience where we didn't get it right in Cardiff. We've now got a second opportunity to make sure we make the most of it."
Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray; 1 Cian Healy, 2 Rory Best (c), 3 Tadhg Furlong, 4 James Ryan, 5 Devin Toner, 6 Peter O'Mahony, 7 Dan Leavy, 8 CJ Stander.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Jordi Murphy, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Joey Carbery, 23 Jordan Larmour.
Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Blair Kinghorn, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Pete Horne, 11 Sean Maitland, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Greig Laidlaw, 1 Gordon Reid, 2 Stuart McInally, 3 Simon Berghan, 4 Grant Gilchrist, 5 Jonny Gray, 6 John Barclay (c), 7 Hamish Watson, 8 Ryan Wilson.
Replacements: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Jamie Bhatti, 18 W.P Nel, 19 Tim Swinson, 20 David Denton, 21 Ali Price, 22 Nick Grigg, 23 Lee Jones.