by Conor O’Shea
I don’t think the four changes make a massive difference to Ireland.
Declan Kidney wanted to freshen things up ahead of what will be two massive away games in seven days and in terms of the group, it gives different players a chance to show what they can do.
We now have very hard runners and hitters in the back row with Denis Leamy coming in. It is a surprise to see him come in at eight for Jamie Heaslip and I would have thought he might have been more likely to be introduced at six. The other change in the forwards, Rory Best for Jerry Flannery, is always a very tight and doesn’t really weaken us either.
In the backline, Gordon D’Arcy is the one change you would have anticipated as being likely to happen at some stage and Peter Stringer for Tomás O’Leary does give Ireland something different. Stringer is the best passing scrum-half in Ireland and Ronan O’Gara should have a little extra time on the ball.
The other thing is, all the players who have been changed out of the first XV are on the bench which gives us a chance to change things fairly easily if needed.
Ireland - quick ball and hard running in midfield
We should have quick ball coming to the backs and some very direct runners in midfield and it will be interesting to see how it goes.
The changes Scotland have made both for this game and over the course of the Championship are possibly more significant. They have a few players returning from injury - Jim Hamilton and Nathan Hines are back, with Hines on the bench, and the prop Euan Murray has now played a few games and will be fully match fit. In fact, they are almost back to the pack that dominated South Africa in the Autumn series and also won and kept a lot of possession against New Zealand.
That is a concern.
If Mike Blair plays as well as he can, they have danger men out wide in the likes of Thom Evans and Simon Danielli and a good goal-kicker in Chris Paterson.
Scotland - choices to make in defence
How Scotland defend will be interesting. They have not been as aggressive in defence so far but things can be changed very quickly. France are in a case in point. They were very soft against us but played an incredibly aggressive blitz against Wales.
You have to read it when it is being played. Potentially, Scotland will decide to play with a more aggressive defence against Ireland because of Ireland’s record against those types of defence. England’s press defence also put us out of sorts.
I’d be amazed if anyone opts to play soft against the type of strike runners we have in our backline.
They are not as big as other sides but any team can play a press if they get their angles right and take the tackles on their terms.
It’s about timing and if you are aggressive in the right way you actually deny people momentum. A more passive defence can sometimes end up letting people get at them. If you get your blitz wrong, though, it can get you in a lot of trouble.
But Scotland are in front of their home crowd, no-one has really given them credit for the Italian game and they need to win this game to get some respectability. The coach Frank Hadden is under pressure as are a lot of the Scotland players.
Ireland are the better side but this is the best team Scotland have fielded so far in the Championship and they are due a big performance.
We should win but will need to be right on top of our game.