Six Nations: Ireland v Scotland preview: Dublin is no place to go looking for redemption

You can not discount an unexpected Scotland victory but the visitors will need to play for the full 80 minutes to have any chance and they haven’t come close to managing that thus far.

Scotland No 8 Jack Dempsey comes cup against a green wall at last year's World Cup. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Scotland No 8 Jack Dempsey comes cup against a green wall at last year's World Cup. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

TWO teams in similar positions, both attempting to bounce back after unexpected defeats, only one is likely to do so although you can get the draw at 33-1 if you have a mind to?

Dublin is no place to go looking for redemption because Gregor Townsend has a record against Ireland that reads: lost 11 and won one match. Scotland have never won at the Aviva Stadium. As a result, Irish fans are totally dismissive of Scotland, who will in turn hope that that same attitude breeds a little complacency in the Irish players.

It is difficult to accurately assess this Scotland side. If they were uniformly useless we could write them off and get on with our lives. The problem is that this side has shown us glimpses of what they can achieve. For 25 minutes against France/Italy and for 45 minutes in Cardiff, they were all but unplayable.


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Always kick a man when they are down, I think the saying goes … because they are in no position to argue the toss. But, instead, Scotland have pulled their opponents back onto their feet, dusted them down and waved some smelling salts under their nose. If you and I are a little bemused by this, just think how Townsend’s brain must be scrambled by his team’s inconsistency.

There are two ways Saturday’s match goes. The first scenario sees Ireland score early, ramp up the pressure, grind Scotland down and the match will be over quick time, as per RWC’23. This can’t be discounted. Ireland are angry.

The second scenario sees Scotland coming out swinging. They are stung by criticism and need to empty the tank on Saturday. The Scots know that Ireland will win at a canter if they perform only in cameos and the rare prospect of a Triple Crown will surely spur them on.

And we know Ireland are susceptible to a physical onslaught, the problem is that the opposition needs to maintain sky-high energy levels and we also know that Scotland struggles with that. England didn’t just knock the men in green back in one tackle because Ireland simply reset and come again. Borthwick’s boys followed it up with two, three or four dominant contacts in quick succession, which forced Jack Crowley to kick possession away on their terms rather than his.

Do Scotland have the power in their pack to knock Ireland off their stride for the second weekend in succession? Andy Christie helps, and Jack Dempsey was abrasive in Rome, but the front-five need to up their game in the loose. And perhaps the peerless Josh van der Flier will bring out the best in Scotland’s underperforming co-captain Rory Darge.

Stafford McDowall has been whistled up for his Six Nations debut to counter the highly physical approach of Bundee Aki who has not been at his very best in this series but remains a threat. McDowall partners fellow Warrior Huw Jones in the Scottish midfield so there should be mutual understanding there and there will need to be because the midfield is where Ireland weave most of their magic; inside balls, balls out the back, out the front, wrap arounds and, after Italy and France showed everyone the way, plenty of little dinks in behind the Scotland’s defensive rush that Ben White will need to deal with.

McDowall deserves his chance but the hosts won’t give him time to find his feet at this elevated level. He is more than just a basher. The Glasgow man has soft hands, quick feet and a good left boot. He will need to balance aggression with intelligence throughout, especially in his defensive reads with Jones.

 

 

Ireland themselves are pretty sore and their loss in London can also unfold in one of two ways. England may have done us a favour by exposing a chink in the armour for others to exploit. The King’s new clothes are absent and everyone can laugh at their discomfort.

That may be wishful thinking. This Ireland team can be a little tiring to watch with their endless phase play but they are relentless and more than a little tiring to play against. Andy Farrell has given the same team from Twickenham the chance to put things right and those lucky few will do their damndest to take it.

There is a moment from the game between these two sides in RWC’23 that stands out for me. Ireland scored just one minute and three seconds into the match and a desperate Scotland knew they needed to hit back quickly. They lobbed the kitchen sink and everything else to hand at the Irish in the next few passages of play. There was massive amounts of effort but little by way of deception, intelligence, angles of run or any other attacking staples. Just runners, with the odd ball out the back, bashing away at Ireland’s defense. The game was over by half time and the Scots need far more smarts come Saturday.

I expect the visitors to start better in Dublin than they did in Paris. They know they cannot allow Ireland an early score. The longer the game stays tight, the more it favours the underdog. They must take points when on offer and find a way to stay in the fight.

I expect Finn Russell to dig deep into his box of tricks, especially with the same little dinks behind the defensive line that undid the Scots in Rome and Edinburgh. Beaudon Barrett did something similar to Ireland in RWC’23, it led directly to a try and we all know how that story ended.

I expect Christie and Peter O’Mahony will have a rammy at some point in proceedings. I hope so because it will mean that the Irish are rattled. Again.

I expect Scotland to be in touch at half-time, possibly even in the lead with Duhan van der Merwe and Kyle Steyn popping up all over the park to get hands on the ball.

I expect to see Russell, White, McDowall and Blair Kinghorn kick the ball plenty, a ploy they abandoned in Rome, and hope to catch Hugo Keenan deep in Irish territory. They will also attempt to isolate winger James Lowe, whose defensive abilities do not match his offensive prowess, by attacking him down the blind side.

You can not discount an unexpected Scotland victory but the visitors will need to play for the full 80 minutes to have any chance and they haven’t come close to managing that thus far.

Ireland by 12, more if they are first out the blocks.

 

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About Iain Morrison 142 Articles
Iain was capped 15 times for Scotland at openside flanker between his debut against Ireland during the 1993 Six Nations and his final match against New Zealand at the 1995 World Cup in South Africa. He was twice a Cambridge ‘Blue’ and played his entire club career with London Scottish (being inducted into the club’s Hall of Fame in 2016). Iain is a lifelong member of Linlithgow Rugby Club. After hanging up his boots, he became rugby correspondent for The Sunday Herald, before moving to The Scotland on Sunday for 16 years, and he has also guest written for various other publications.

5 Comments

  1. Our breakdown work throughout the championship has been hopeless, despite a much vaunted back row.

    If that doesn’t improve today then we’re looking at a 30 point loss. Maybe more.

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  2. I sat in the row behind Townsend and his coaching staff during the Glasgow Toulon match. This was just before he selected his 6 N’s training squad.
    Instead of watching the game in front of him he sat glued to his phone watching the Edinburgh game. When DVDM scored he turned to Tandy with a wee grin on his face saying ” Dugan just scored”.
    A thought passed through my head. If this lack of interest of an actual live match is a reflection of his attention to detail then it’s unsurprising that Scotland can’t play well for more than 40 minutes.
    We play well, Ireland by 10.
    We play like the WC then Ireland by 30.

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  3. hope toony has appointed someone to lead the forwards as darge is not up to the job,we need far more action from the front five in the loose, having two captains is not working especially as finn thinks he can win the game on his own, for the last 6-10 matches against ireland ireland have bullied scotland by starting hard and fast scotland must be ready from the start, toony must use his subs better than he has been doing, scotland seem to be going backward instead of forward far too many mistakes far too many unnecessary penalties if they can not teach them the basics of rugby what chance have we got of progressing

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