HAVING beaten Ireland at Murrayfield two years ago, Scotland would have been entirely confident of coming up with a winning strategy for Saturday’s match even before the first round of Six Nations games last weekend. But the fact that England won in Dublin has provided a welcome reminder to Gregor Townsend’s squad of the aspects of the game in which the Irish are fallible – aspects which they are sure to spend some time studying between now and kick-off.
Ireland’s starting line-up will be changed – Garry Ringrose and Devin Toner yesterday joined CJ Stander in being ruled out of the game – and Joe Schmidt is sure to make a few tactical alterations too. Nonetheless, the Scotland squad have a route map to victory now, one that will at least provide a useful starting point as they set off in search of a second home win to follow the 33-20 defeat of Italy.
“England were just dominant, weren’t they?,” back-row forward Ryan Wilson said yesterday. “They played really smartly, put the ball in behind Ireland, then pressured them with their defence and when they got the ball they were clinical. I thought England are looking really strong.
Scotland’s 6 Nations Campaign:
“When England needed to they had 14 men on their feet and they picked the right opportunities to counter-ruck. They’re really smart around the field. So, again, we’ll look at that game, we’ve had the highlights up around the team room and just have a look at how England beat them, but we’ve got some stuff up our sleeves for ourselves.
“We’re at home and that’s massive for us. There’s a real buzz around Murrayfield at the moment and that’ll play a huge part in it, but we’ve got to start well and we’ve got to be physical with them, exactly like England were. England were so physical with them, they were tackling in twos, and the dominance of their defence was crazy, so we’ll be looking to do the same.”
The other thing Scotland will need to do, as Gregor Townsend made clear in the immediate aftermath of the Italy game, is play for 80 minutes. The late lapse that allowed the Italians to score three tries in the final 10 minutes was forgivable given the game was already won and the bonus point was in the bag, but it is highly improbable that Townsend’s team would take anything close to a 30-point lead into the closing spell against the Irish. If they are up, it may not be by much, hence the need to maintain concentration levels.
“Yeah, we were disappointed with the last 10 or 15 minutes of that game, obviously,” Wilson continued. “Hopefully it doesn’t come back to bite us, because these points can make a difference. Something we really pride ourselves on is our final 20 minutes over the last 10 or so games and we didn’t do a great job there. And, albeit we were quite far ahead, we maybe switched off a little bit, but we’ve got to tighten that up, because a team that are very strong in the last 20 minutes are Ireland.
“We need to raise it, we know that. We’ve done the job we needed to against Italy and there’s a whole new focus now this week. We’ve done our review on Italy. That game’s in the history books now and we can’t change any of that, so we’re looking forward to this week, a massive step up, especially with the way they’ll be coming over to Murrayfield.”
Scotland already had a lengthy injury list even before Willem Nel was ruled out on Monday, so they do not necessarily think they have been placed at a huge advantage simply because Ireland have some similar problems of their own. Even so, speaking before it had been announced that Ringrose and Toney will be missing on Saturday, Wilson acknowledged that the absence of Stander could well come as a substantial blow to the visitors.
“He’s one of their biggest ball-carriers,” the Glasgow Warriors captain said of his opposite number. “Not sure who will come in instead of him. But he’s a big loss for Ireland, he’s their go-to ball carrier in that back row, so a big loss.”
Munster lock Billy Holland, capped once in 2016, has been added to the Ireland squad in place of Toner, although barring further injuries is not expected to be in the matchday 23. James Ryan will start in the second-row alongside either Ultan Dillane or Quinn Roux, with the one who misses out getting the place on the bench. The gap left by Ringrose will be filled using existing resources.