Paul O'Connell expects Ireland to face the "best Scottish team" in almost 20 years when the sides clash in Edinburgh on Sunday.

In recent years Ireland have understandably gone into this fixture with a sense of confidence and have not lost in their last five encounters, including a World Cup hammering for Gregor Townsend's men.

That belief stemmed from form, consistency and a proven track record as well as meeting various Scottish outfits that never seemed to be able to produce a ruthless 80-minute performance.

But this time around it’s Scotland, winners away to England in their first game, who are still in the hunt for silverware and it’s Andy Farrell’s side who have just pride to play for, having lost two of the opening three Guinness Six Nations matches.

"I think it’s the best Scottish team I’ve ever gone up against, as a coach or a player," forwards coach Paul O’Connell, who won 12 of his 108 Irish caps against the Scots, told RTÉ Sport.

"They’re very well coached, very physical and they’ve got some real x-factor players as well, [like] Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg. 

Finn Russell in action during Scotland's 11-6 win over England

"They’re in a very good place and we’re aware of the challenge. We’ve taken confidence, from some of the things we’ve done in the last three games.

"We’ve probably been unlucky in some regards and we haven’t helped ourselves in some regards, probably given sides a leg up when we played them.

"That’s something we can’t do in the next few weeks. You have to be hard to beat, you can’t give things away to teams and we’ve probably done that a little bit. 

"In the next two weeks, that’s one of the most important parts of what we have to deliver. We have to be hard to beat, we can’t give things away and give teams a leg up. 


Stockdale back in Ireland squad


"This Scottish team will take advantage of that. 

"There’s no doubt Scotland are an excellent side. Any team coached by Gregor Townsend always attack very well.

"Going back to his Glasgow days they always had incredible physical edge. You think sometimes if a coach is into attack then his team won’t have a physical edge, but every Glasgow team I played back in the day were excellent attacking sides, but were physical as well.

"It’s the same with this Scottish team. 

"So much good attack in the Autumn Nations and the Six Nations has come from Scotland.

"Then they’re very physical as well. Fantastic performance against England, excellent set-piece performance, which laid a real solid foundation for them to go on and win. 

"It’s a massive test, these next two weeks against a resurgent, confident Scottish side and an England side we’ve struggled against in recent years. It’s a real tough challenge now in the next few weeks. 

O’Connell joined the Ireland set-up in January and says he is pleased with how the lineout, identified as a problem area over the last two years, has functioned since. 

In fact, the pack have lost just three of 32 lineouts and picked off six opposition throws in the games to date.

"I think some parts of it have been good, some parts of it have been poor," said the 41-year-old as he revealed that all of the squad are fit and available for selection with the exception of flanker Josh van der Flier, who is undergoing return to play protocols and may feature. 

"We’ve managed to give away a few penalties through some sloppy defence on our behalf which, I suppose, has given the opposition access into the game.

"And that’s one of the big things you don’t want to do.

"You want to put pressure on opposition ball certainly but you don’t want to be giving away penalties, which we have once or twice.

"But it’s been good. The calling has been good. The players have been really impressive, the way they take ownership and run the operation.

"So you’re just trying to facilitate them and help them see what you can see with the benefit of the video.

Stuart Hogg fumbled the ball over the line in Ireland's last Six Nations win over Scotland

"You want them to be able to see it under pressure in a game, see it quickly and call it quickly, whether that is in defence or in attack.

"The group are great, particularly in the second-row, everyone, Ultan Dillane, Ryan Baird since he has come in has been really diligent.

"James Ryan and Iain Henderson have been doing it a long time. They’re very good in being prepared, Tadhg Beirne as well. It’s been enjoyable working with them.

"The second-rows in the group have a massive appetite for work. They tend to do an awful lot of video, prepare a lot and think about the other guys whose lineout isn’t the be all and end all of their work.

"So they try to simplify things for them so it’s been great working with them."

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Follow Scotland v Ireland (kick-off 3pm, Sunday) via our live blog on RTE.ie and the RTÉ News app or listen live on RTÉ Radio 1's Sunday Sport. Highlights on Against the Head on RTÉ2 and RTÉ Player, 8pm Monday.