/ Six Nations 2015

RBS 6 Nations preview: Ireland v Scotland

Updated: Saturday, 10 Mar 2012 14:19

Rory Best will captain Ireland
Rory Best will captain Ireland

by Brendan Cole

Ireland are playing for pride against Scotland, but they were desperately close to being in the thick of a Grand Slam battle and getting fired up after just missing out is a challenge.

Despite the talk of World Rankings points, the near misses will still grate.

Even though Ireland were unable to drive on and claim the win in the second half against France, there are some positives. It is clear that if a functioning scrum can be brought from Paris to Dublin, Ireland’s record will improve.

It should also be a point of pride that Ireland protected the Grand Slam from another team by denying France the win.

But the low wattage performance against Wales in the opening round remains a nagging memory, not least because it happened in Dublin. The Aviva Stadium still awaits a display at the level of Stade de France or Eden Park.

Ireland must also solve their persistent difficulties with performing when they are expected to win, and this match will be particularly interesting in that regard.

Ireland seemed to have that ability in 2009 – a year in which Declan Kidney’s selection policy was considerably more fluid.

This time, the changes to the team are enforced.

The loss of Paul O’Connell, one of the premier locks in the world, is obviously a huge blow coming on the back of yet another huge performance against France.

Ireland should still have the best forward on the pitch in Stephen Ferris but the battle between the packs will be much closer than it might have been.

At least Ireland have a 'like-for-like' replacement and they will get plenty of energy and aggression from Donnacha Ryan.

It is a shame that Eoin Reddan comes into the starting line-up in the same week that Sean O’Brien is forced to miss out; O'Brien's ball-carrying has been at his best when they have been on the pitch together.

On the other hand, while Peter O’Mahony is not built like a natural openside and may not be a long-term solution there, he looks to have the right instincts for attacking the Scots at the breakdown without giving up penalties.

Getting the ball back from Scotland during phased play will be a priority; Tommy Bowe’s second try against France was a timely reminder of the value of turnover ball.

Even without O’Brien, Reddan’s selection in the absence of the unfortunate Conor Murray will give a different dynamic to the attacking play. The impact of his natural ability to get things ticking along at a high pace either side of the ruck will be worth watching out for and if Ireland can stress Scotland in that area, the centres and Jonathan Sexton at out-half should profit.

In the number 13 jersey, Keith Earls will get few better opportunities to show what he can do than against Nick De Luca.

The Munsterman has more pace than Brian O’Driscoll ever did, but has yet to show the same ability to vary his speed and pick lines in the style of the master. Now is the time to experiment.

Scotland have had injuries of their own and possibly will not have enough men capable of creating the initial momentum needed. If Ireland deny Richie Gray, David Denton and Sean Lamont quick go-forward ball, they can force the errors that have blighted the Scottish attack to date.

If Scotland do get going, the obvious danger man is Stuart Hogg, who has the pace and instinct to arrive outside the centres from full-back.

But their pass-heavy attacking style – organised by Gregor Townsend and depending on the late passes on the gainline in which he used to specialise - will also interest Les Kiss. Pressing up hard will test Scotland's skills to the limit.

Ireland will surely look to see how Hogg fares under high ball – Rob Kearney currently looks peerless and dominated Imanol Harinordoquy and Clement Poitrenaud last week, often under his own kicks.

Andrew Trimble and Tommy Bowe also have the size and speed to cause a problem or two for the Scots and keeping the ball on the pitch instead of going for touch looks a smart policy given Ireland’s lineout struggles and Scotland’s relative strength in the area.

With plenty of errors likely, the scrum could be a point of strength. Mike Ross has not been a major feature around the park but he is a superb scrum cornerstone and the contest could provide a bedrock for an Irish victory.

Ireland must guard against a 'bounce' after last week's massive effort, and it would be too much to expect major fireworks.

But the generally strong record in this fixture – two years ago aside – and the quality in key positions down the spine of the team should see them collect a second RBS 6 Nations win.

Match Prediction: Ireland 17-10 Scotland

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What They're Saying:

John Barclay (Scotland flanker): "It's an individual responsibility to be switched on and focused and to concentrate for 80 minutes. Sadly, at Test match level it just takes 20 seconds for one player to lapse. think we are learning the hard way but, as long as we are learning, that's the most important thing."

Eoin Reddan (Ireland scrum-half): "If you’re starting, you’re more involved in how training is going in the week. You’ve probably more of a say in making sure everything goes well and in the plays you may use at the weekend. If you’re on the bench, your job is to stay positive all week and look at the game and see where you can bring a difference. They are two different jobs. But, I think the roles of each job are clear. You just do each one to the best of your ability and get on with it."

That’s what I’ve been doing so far. This week, obviously, I have the nicer job which is getting to start."

Ireland v Scotland in the RBS 6 Nations, Aviva Stadium, Saturday 10 March, kick-off 5pm:

Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Keith Earls, 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Andrew Trimble, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Eoin Reddan, 1 Cian Healy, 2 Rory Best, 3 Mike Ross, 4 Donncha O'Callaghan, 5 Donnacha Ryan, 6 Stephen Ferris, 7 Peter O’Mahony, 8 Jamie Heaslip.

Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Tom Court, 18 Mike McCarthy, 19 Shane Jennings 20 Tomas O’Leary, 21 Ronan O'Gara, 22 Fergus McFadden

Scotland: Stuart Hogg, Lee Jones, Nick De Luca, Graeme Morrison, Sean Lamont, Greig Laidlaw, Mike Blair, David Denton, Ross Rennie, John Barclay, Jim Hamilton, Richie Gray, Geoff Cross, Ross Ford (captain), Allan Jacobsen

Replacements: Scott Lawson, Euan Murray, Alastair Kellock, Richie Vernon, Chris Cusiter, Ruaridh Jackson, Max Evans.

<notforsyndication>Watch Ireland v Scotland live on RTÉ Two and RTÉ.ie (Ireland only) from 2.30pm on Saturday, 10 March. Live coverage on RTÉ Radio 1 and RTÉ.ie (Worldwide) from 2.30pm. Ireland U20s v Scotland U20s on Friday, 9 March on RTÉ Two and on RTÉ.ie (Ireland only) from 7pm</notforsyndication>