An exciting and defining Six Nations encounter awaits us this weekend as Ireland travel to Murrayfield to take on Gregor Townsend's high-flying Scotland.
Scotland, despite their vast improvements, are going into a home game as underdogs (Sunday 3pm, live on RTÉ2, RTÉ Player and RTÉ Radio 1).
They would love nothing more than to use that tag to set the tone for what we would expect to be a passionate and dogged performance in Edinburgh, with sprinkles of Finn Russell magic.
Scotland are more than a team that relies on the mercurial talents of the Racing 92 out-half to spark their attack.
Stuart Hogg has the ability to create something from nothing, despite his lack of form compared to his usual standards.
However, it’s their centre partnership that will take the attention from the last few weeks.
Huw Jones scores his second try to put Scotland firmly back in this game with France.— RTÉ Rugby (@RTErugby) February 26, 2023
Watch on @RTEPlayer: https://t.co/CStwnXfA29 pic.twitter.com/TSt6MKr2Ml
Sione Tuipulotu and Huw Jones are in top form, combining for memorable tries against France and England.
Not only can both centres run hard and slip subtle passes to each other, Tuipolotu showed his kicking game is a threat with his assist for Jones' try against England at Twickenham as well.
The run, pass, kick threat of the Scottish centres will test the Irish defence.
Outside them, Duhan Van Der Merwe has stolen enough of the headlines too, and rightly so.
His marauding run against England will more than likely win try of the tournament but he is more than a one-try wonder. His physicality adds another dimension to the creative flair inside him.
A scintillating run from winger Duhan van der Merwe and an early contender for try of the tournament. Scotland lead England 12-5 at Twickenham— RTÉ Rugby (@RTErugby) February 4, 2023
Watch live coverage of England v Scotland on @rte2 and @rteplayer pic.twitter.com/dOQjJ7NFcJ
If those three threats weren’t enough, Russell has been strutting his stuff quite effectively for Scotland during this year’s tournament.
The good has to come with the bad, the latter being a forced-pass-turned-intercept for Thomas Ramos to put Scotland at a 19-point deficit away in France.
However, he got over for his own try, and his try-assist tally is growing, from standard wide passes, back door offloads and kick passes to both sides of the pitch.
Ireland won’t be allowed to take their eyes off Russell’s movements if they want to progress past their biggest away test yet.
Unfortunately, due to his contractual obligations in France, Russell had to line out for Racing 92 last weekend, which may have disrupted his preparations but somehow I don’t think that would affect someone like him.
The Scots aren’t just this all-singing, all-dancing backline that throw the ball around in hope.
They are well coached under Gregor Townsend, who has a reputation for coaching fast, attacking sides since his spell at Glasgow.
The second Van Der Merwe try against England was evidence that his forwards can play a fast-handling game too, subs included.
The Scottish scrum with the likes of Pierre Schoeman, Zander Fagerson and WP Nel has caused problems, as well as their attacking maul in the French game.
Ireland are no slouches when it comes to their forward power, their biggest statement came last November when they nullified the South African dominance at the set piece.
They will have to play in Murrayfield with the same focus because a home team with a strong set-piece are a difficult force to stop.
Hooker George Turner has been dynamic for Scotland and his ability to break away from the maul in the same style as Ronan Kelleher and Dan Sheehan will be an added threat.
The Scottish back-row will be tasked with slowing down the Irish attack and disrupting their breakdown, which is the life and soul of their attacking foundations. Hamish Watson and Jamie Ritchie will be out to cause trouble.
Ireland themselves will go into this game full to the brim with confidence and with an injection of energy from the likely return of Johnny Sexton, Jamison Gibson-Park, Robbie Henshaw and Tadhg Furlong (above).
Sexton will be an obvious reinstatement to the team but the return of Furlong has been eagerly awaited, even more so since the injury to Finlay Bealham.
Tom O’Toole could do a job from the start against Scotland, who are looking for a Triple Crown, but the experience and presence that Furlong has, whether that be from the start or from the bench, will have a huge physical and mental effect on the Scottish setpiece.
Andy Farrell, and the rest of Ireland, will be hoping that Garry Ringrose can shake off his injury in time for training this week to start on Sunday.
The Leinster centre’s defensive decision-making and aggressive line speed was sorely missed against Italy.
'Ringrose is the glue' - @TheRealEddieOS says it’s a worry at outside centre with injury concerns regarding Garry Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw #rterugby #AgainstTheHead pic.twitter.com/B2txCpihPj— RTÉ Sport (@RTEsport) February 27, 2023
Despite Scotland’s marked improvement across this campaign, Ireland have shown their ability to tactically outplay even stronger opposition to give themselves the tag of the world number one.
They won’t be keen to let that slip against Scotland, who sit in second place and play Italy at home in the last round, but they will need to be at the top of their game to get the result.
Farrell and the likes of coaches Paul O’Connell and Mike Catt around him have been tactically astute.
They will want to strangle the Scottish fast attacking play while causing mayhem with their own attack.
Ireland’s tight connections in attack work much more effectively with Sexton on the pitch.
This is a game for an all-out selection from Farrell. Ireland have been challenged with late injuries and disruptions in the opening few rounds, this is a test where they’ll need full availability.
The hosts are a team on the rise and they are in Ireland’s World Cup group.
Despite everything that this stands for in the current Guinness Six Nations campaign, there’s an argument to be made that they can dent the Scottish confidence and force their second loss in two games.
If they can derail Scotland’s improvements at this stage of the tournament, it will go a long way to also giving Ireland another mental edge over Townsend’s troops when they meet in Paris on 7 October.
We might not have predicted Ireland versus Scotland as a make-or-break championship game for both teams, but that’s exactly what it is.
It’s all to play for.
Watch live coverage of Scotland v Ireland (Sunday 3pm) on RTÉ2 and RTÉ Player, follow our live blog on RTÉ.ie/Sport and the RTÉ News app, or listen to live commentary on RTÉ Radio 1.