Date: 10th March 2012
Venue: Aviva Stadium
Referee: Chris Pollock
Ireland, despite a valiant attempt last weekend in Paris, have still only won one game against Top 10 opposition since the end of the last 6 Nations. The good news is, therefore, that Scotland are ranked 11th. Their home form isn’t much to “write home about” (they have lost 3 of their last 4 home games with only the win against Italy to their credit, and have only won 4 of their last 10 games in Dublin). It would be very wrong to talk about crisis, but if Scotland were to back up their World Cup warm-up win with a win in Dublin, then Declan Kidney would surely be fearing a call from the Irish Board.
Still chasing a win in this competition, Scotland will be looking to bounce back and capitalise on the stirring performance put in against France, where many thought that the ‘unlucky losers’ tag was never more deserved. There is only one change to the starting XV that ran out against France, and that is due to Rory Lamont’s injury. Nick De Luca comes in at outside centre as Lee Jones swaps wings. On the bench Euan Murray, Ruaridh Jackson and Max Evans all step up, as Duncan Weir and Ed Kalman drop out of the starting 22, A move that has had some scratching their heads after Weir impressed on his off the bench debut.
This team will also be fresh after having had a weekend off of the intensity of the international game, something that may give them an advantage over an Irish team playing their fourth consecutive game.
What to Expect:
Had their line-out worked as well as in previous weeks in Paris, Ireland would be celebrating a rare and famous victory, but it didn’t and without the talismanic O’Connell for the rest of the tournament, O’Callaghan and Ryan have to step up. Much of that failing in Paris has to be laid at the feet of Rory Best, who as Captain will be keen to see a vast improvement this week. Behind the pack though is where I
expect the Irish to win this one (for a change). Reddan (a forced change) and Sexton should provide the ammunition for an (on-paper) dangerous back line to put the Scots to the sword. Scotland’s backs
could be in for a long day if Ireland get the forward platform to launch Earls, D’Arcy, Trimble and of course Bowe and Kearney.
The statistics for this encounter suggest a much more evenly balanced than perhaps many expect, out of 20 clashes, Scotland have won 9 to Ireland’s 10, and Scotland have won 2 out of the last 3 encounters. I think Scotland will be looking to start in a similar vein as they did against France, get an early lead and leave the home side playing catch up. The trick will be not to let that lead slip though, meaning a solid, forward heavy defensive style of play interspersed with the same flashes of pace and ingenuity that we saw two weeks ago at Murrayfield.
All Eyes On: Rob Kearney & Greig Laidlaw
Kearney has been getting better and better as the tournament goes on, and his all-round effort against France has filled many a column inch, and resulted in me giving him a 9.5, which I didn’t do lightly. Conditions may dictate the way he influences the game, but in bad conditions he can be relied on under the high ball and in good conditions, his quick feet, strength and pace can turn defence into attack very quickly. If Scotland don’t hit him early, they could be spending a lot of their afternoon turning and chasing him.
Scrum half turned stand off Laidlaw has been growing more comfortable in the fly-half position for his country as this competition has progressed. Andy Robinson has kept the faith with him, despite having the new talent of Duncan Weir and the tried and tested experience of back to match fit Ruaridh Jackson. This game will prove a big moment for Laidlaw, as he goes up against consummate fly half Jonathan Sexton, and possibly Ronan O’Gara. The stand off will be a key instrument in keeping Scotland’s game control and setting the pace, along with his half back partner and Edinburgh teammate Mike Blair.
Head to Head: Jamie Heaslip v David Denton
Heaslip has had one of ‘those’ tournaments. Ten minutes of highly influential play followed by 20 or 30 less influential minutes watching the game go by. Whereas Denton has come into this competition playing like he really has something to prove, and been inspired and influential in all of Scotland’s matches.
3 years ago Heaslip was a highly influential, if still young, member of both the Ireland and British Lions teams. At the moment, it is a very real prospect that we would see him not travelling with the Lions, and his opponent on Saturday could well be one of the people who takes his place.
Saturday sees a great opportunity for both players to really make their mark, with Heaslip showing one of the young bucks there is still a fair way to go to oust him from the Lions reckoning, but it will be an interesting battle with Denton, who seems to have the strength and ability to drive across the gain line with two men on his back and is a younger and quicker option. With Andy Robinson saying at the Scotland team press conference that the Irish back row are one of the best in the world, extending the head-to-head then Barclay, Rennie and Denton vs Ferris, O’Mahoney and Heaslip is one of the more intriguing battles of the weekend, across all 3 games.
While Ireland are at home, they have struggled to win tight games this year, sliding to defeat against the Welsh and snatching a draw from the jaws of victory against the French. Scotland have performed valiantly in all three games, but seem to have just lost that ability to claim victory. The try hoodoo has been removed, but I can’t see them getting anything from Lansdowne Road. Ireland by 9. MB
A fresh, and rested Scottish side encouraged by their improving performance will be a match for a slightly tired and some would say weakened Irish side. The last time the Scots played in Ireland they came away with the win. Scotland know that they can score the tries, and know that they perhaps have an edge over the home side in terms of freshness, but I think Ireland’s killer instinct will just carry them that one bit further. Ireland by 5. CL