Ireland v Scotland: 10 things you really should know
Match details, team news, how to watch, and the big talking points for Six Nations clash
State of play
Many are predicting it to be Ireland’s toughest game so far and, if form is anything to go by, it certainly will be. Joe Schmidt’s side meet a Scotland team high off their first Calcutta Cup victory in 10 years on Saturday at the Aviva Stadium with kick-off at 2.15pm.
Scotland’s 25-13 win over England at Murrayfield two weeks ago not only scuppered their rivals’ chances of a Grand Slam but also put the Scots back in the frame to crash the party and perhaps secure a shock Six Nations title for themselves.
Saturday’s game in Dublin is as important for them as it is for Ireland, if not more so for the Scots given that they cannot afford another loss.
For Ireland a two-week break will have done a power of good after a tough fought 37-27 win over Wales, allowing the likes of Tadhg Furlong and Iain Henderson to come back to full fitness.
Ireland currently lead the table on 14 points with England five behind. Assuming Eddie Jones’ men beat France in Paris they will still have Championship victory in their sights going into next weekend’s finale against Ireland in Twickenham.
How to follow
Our liveblog will start at 1.15pm on Saturday with Patrick Madden taking you through all of the build-up and the action from a sold-out Lansdowne Road. If you can get to a television you can watch the action on TV3 from 1pm UTV from 1.25pm. England’s meeting with France follows on TV3 and is also live on BBC1 from 4pm. Our liveblog for that one will start at 4.15pm.
Tadhg Furlong and Garry Ringrose both return to the Ireland XV.
Joe Schmidt has made two changes to the side which beat Wales 37-27 last time out, but has opted to retain Devin Toner at lock and name the fit-again Iain Henderson on the bench.
Andrew Porter makes way for Lions tighthead Furlong, while Ringrose replaces the injured Chris Farrell.
Ireland: R Kearney; K Earls, G Ringrose, B Aki, J Stockdale; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best (capt), T Furlong; J Ryan, D Toner; P O’Mahony, D Leavy, CJ Stander.
Replacements: S Cronin, J McGrath, A Porter, I Henderson, J Murphy, K Marmion, J Carbery, J Larmour.
Blair Kinghorn’s inclusion in the starting 15 is the big news for Scotland with the in-form Edinburgh winger the only change to the lineup from the team that defeated England a fortnight ago. Kinghorn comes in for the injured Tommy Seymour.
Richie Gray returns from injury to take his place on the bench having been deemed not fit enough to start.
Scotland: S Hogg (Glasgow); B Kinghorn (Edinburgh), H Jones, P Horne (both Glasgow), S Maitland (Saracens); F Russell (Glasgow), G Laidlaw (Clermont); G Reid (London Irish), S McInally, S Berghan; G Gilchrist (all Edinburgh), J Gray (Glasgow); J Barclay (Scarlets), H Watson (Edinburgh), R Wilson (Glasgow).
Replacements: F Brown (Glasgow), J Bhatti (Glasgow), WP Nel (Edinburgh), T Swinson (Glasgow), D Denton (Worcester), A Price, N Grigg, L Jones (all Glasgow).
Attack the best form of defence for Ireland
Northern Hemisphere rugby has come on hugely in the last few years and fast, attacking rugby is now the norm. This is leaving Ireland’s defence somewhat exposed. Wales scored three tries with only 31 per cent possession. Italy also scored three tries with only 36 per cent. Six of the seven conceded tries so far in the tournament, have come from breaks out wide on the flanks.
This one isn’t going away
From Ballymun to Blackrock, from Dalkey to Donaghmeade, from Killybegs to Kinsale, from Westport to Waterford and around all four corners of the island of Ireland the people will come together to get behind Joe Schmidt’s side on Saturday and cheer them on towards victory and the possibility of completing a Grand Slam. Remember Walkinstown roundabout during Italia 90? You ain’t seen nothing yet.
Well, not quite.
The debate was sparked this week of what really is the Irish people’s game when RTÉ presenter Daire O’Brien suggested that everyone in the country is invested in the rugby now. The #TeamOfUs has gone nationwide.
It’s fair to say, as Mary Hannigan points out, that not everybody agreed with the idea. Even O’Brien himself and guest Eddie O’Sullivan struggled to justify it.
Daire: “This is not a minority sport ….. maybe in terms of participation.”
Eddie: “There are much more people engaged with rugby…. not necessarily going to games.”
…. so apart from numbers playing the sport and attending games, rugby is flying.
Does it matter? Do people care? Can’t we all just like whatever sport we like? No we can’t, it seems, judging by the reaction of the masses.
The forbidden word in the Irish camp
It may be a cliché for sportspeople to say that they’re taking one game at a time but, in the confines of Ireland camp at Carton House, that is very much the case. So much so that looking beyond the Scotland clash and towards the possibility of a Grand Slam is completely forbidden.
“It’s so important [to realise]that we don’t get a chance to do what you’re saying if we don’t get this week right. But our next focus was always going to be Scotland, and that hasn’t changed this week,” says forwards coach Simon Easterby.
From Carton House, Gerry Thornley writes that the Ireland players are right to keep their heads in the moment, given past history at this stage of the Championship.
Sexton v Russell
The battle of the outhalves is one of the main focuses ahead of Saturday’s clash. Finn Russell starred for Scotland two weeks ago against England while Johnny Sexton has been hugely influential for Ireland in every game so far. So who will come out on top in Dublin?
Gordon D’Arcy is confident it will be Sexton. For a start, D’Arcy writes, the Irishman looks after his pack much better and is as methodical as they come during play as opposed to the mercurial Russell who “is willing to bet it all from anywhere on the pitch (but mainly off turnover ball), his instinct is to splinter the opposing defence with a spectacular pass.”
Meanwhile, Gerry Thornley writes about the Scot and how he makes Gregor Townsend’s side a very dangerous prospect. His pass of the tournament after 30 minutes in the win over England showed his ability to do it when it matters and he is sure to give Ireland a headache on Saturday.
Revenge? No chance
Last year Scotland put a dagger through the heart of any Irish Grand Slam ambitions in the very first week with that deflating 27-22 win at Murrayfield.
The Six Nations gives a chance to hit back the following year but, for Conor Murray, revenge is not a factor at all.
Joe Schmidt’s side rely so thoroughly on detail and control that revenge is just too much of an unreliable, uncontrollable factor to take into account.
As Murray told Johnny Watterson, “they’re a hugely dangerous team. They’re growing in confidence after the England game. With what happened last year you can’t afford to take your eye off the ball. It was early doors last year and we couldn’t catch up.”
Ireland must learn from England’s mistakes
Of the 13 penalties awarded in Scotland’s win over England the Scots won all six that came inside their own 22. England’s lack of patience and indiscipline cost them a number of good scoring opportunities and Ireland must avoid falling into the same trap, as John O’Sullivan points out in his rugby statistics column.
“England’s indiscipline supplied a pressure release valve, Joe Launchbury twice penalised, for not releasing at a ruck and taking the jumper in the air, Farrell for not retreating following a Garryowen, replacement Sam Underhill offering up a double whammy of yellow card and a three-pointer for a ‘no arms’ tackle and Courtney Lawes kicking a ball out of a ruck; all of the soft variety,” he writes.
Taking the dream to another level
For James Ryan just donning the Ireland jersey has been a dream come true. On Saturday he will do it for the seventh time. Could his eighth be as part of a Grand Slam-winning team? It’s fair to say that goes beyond the realms of even his wildest dreams.
“All I ever wanted to do is be a professional rugby player since I could walk really. It has always been the dream for me. Obviously, I’m in a very lucky position. But, I can’t be getting too sentimental or anything like that,” Ryan told Gerry Thornley at the Ireland base in Carton House.