Christine Lester and Conor Buckley, our Scottish and Irish contributors, have both prepared their thoughts on Sunday’s fixture, and it’s interesting to contrast their views.
Date: 28th February 2011
Kick off: 15:00 GMT
Having suffered a bruising defeat at home to Wales two weeks ago, the list of injured Scottish players was certainly worrying; this worry has not abated for Robinson as a weekend of club rugby action has only seen this list grow. The team sheet for this clash against Ireland sees seven changes, and a positional switch, as the side attempts to “restore the pride in all Scotland supporters” to quote Andy Robinson. Chris Paterson returns, replacing Hugo Southwell at the full back position, and I for one am pleased to see that Sean Lamont has finally been included in the starting XV. Glasgow Warriors fly-half Ruaridh Jackson makes his first start for omitted Dan Parks, and Richie Gray returns to the side after recovering from illness.
Tommy Bowe played a full 80 minutes for the Ospreys last weekend and he returns to the Irish team this weekend, winger Fergus McFadden makes way in the match day 22 for Bowe. Munster’s Ronan O’Gara comes in for Johnny Sexton and is partnered by Eoin Reddan with Peter Stringer on the bench. The rest of the team is unchanged from the team that was defeated narrowly by France in their last game. The introduction of Ronan O’Gara signals that the game plan this weekend may be more of a kicking game than we have seen in the last two games. Ireland will be challenged strongly in the lineout against Scotland’s giant locks Richie Gray and Ali Kellock (6’9″ and 6’8″ respectively)
What to expect:
Christine: a fairly even game. Both teams will be looking to turn around their previous form; Scotland will also not want to concede a second straight defeat at home, whilst Ireland will be looking to avenge last year’s game. Ireland have the stronger team with several players who are old hands at international rugby, whereas Scotland have brought in some fresh blood in an attempt to rejuvenate their play, and this should prove interesting on the pitch. If Scotland play a level headed and expansive game then they will utilise the skill and speed of Lamont and Evans, whilst the Killer Bs; Brown Barclay and Beattie should effectively neutralise threats from the Irish. Ireland could in turn play upon the inexperience in the Scotland team and force the errors, allowing O’Gara to kick some points on the board.
Conor: As previously mentioned, Ireland look like they will play a tactical kicking game, this will put serious focus on their lineout. With Scotland’s two locks likely to dominate the middle of the lineout, Ireland may well look to the back of the lineout and bring Jamie Heaslip into play more than they previously have. The return of Tommy Bowe in the backs will give more options in attack. Ireland have a score to settle from their defeat at Scotland’s hands last season in Croke Park which denied them their fifth Triple Crown in seven years.
All eyes on:
Ireland out half Ronan O’Gara starts this week ahead of Jonny Sexton who produced two almost faultless displays in the opening two games. Going into the World Cup I don’t believe there will be a ‘preferred’ 10, seems that Kidney will chose to start Sexton or O’Gara depending on the type of game plan in place. O’Gara will make his 107th cap for Ireland and has a chance this weekend of breaking the 1000 point barrier in the World Rugby All-Time Top Points Scorers, he currently is on 987 points. He would be only the 5th player in the world to score more than 1000 points in test-rugby, joining rugby legends Dominguez, Jenkins, Wilkinson and Carter.
Sean Lamont earns his first start in this year’s competition, taking the inside centre spot from injured Joe Ansbro, who picked up a knock in the weekend’s Aviva Premiership action for Northampton Saints. Having come on against France and Wales from the bench and made a real impact on the game, few would doubt that he was Scotland’s best player against Wales, the pressure will be on for Lamont to perform well from the off. In previous years playing for Scotland before his knee injury Lamont demonstrated his playing flair and skill, and taking the number 12 shirt should really give him the opportunity to get right into the game.
Head to head: The battle of the back-row
The ‘Killer-Bs’ back-row of Kelly Brown, John Barclay and Johnnie Beattie has united for the first time this season, they face off against a strong Irish backrow of Sean O’Brien, David Wallace and Jamie Heaslip. The Scottish trio cause all sorts of problems for Ireland last season, All three combined in Croke Park to send Johnnie Beattie crashing over for a first half try. With Stephen Ferris ruled out of the remainder of Ireland’s 6-Nations games Sean O’Brien has a guilt-edged chance to play himself in to the first XV for the World Cup.
Last year’s result:
Final day of the 2010 6 Nations, and Ireland’s last game at Croke Park. The home side were the odds on favourites, but Scotland turned it around and pulled off a shock last minute turnaround, with the boot of Dan Parks kicking those all-important three points. Ireland 20 – 23 Scotland.
Weather: Scattered cloud, chance of drizzle, fresh westerly wind.
Christine: Scotland will be looking for their first win of the competition, and are fully aware that a loss to Ireland would put them in the running for the wooden spoon. A win for Ireland means they would still be in the running for the Triple Crown. I think that Ireland will edge it over an injury ridden Scotland, and come away with a narrow win. Ireland by 5 or 7
Conor: Ireland have been making continuous improvement during the tournament so far, their discipline on Sunday is key, this match has all the hallmarks of a kick-fest and the Irish defense will have to be on their best behavior for Ireland to win. Scotland are hampered by injury and struggling for any consistency in this years 6-Nations. Ireland by 5
L Fitzgerald (Leinster); T Bowe (Ospreys), B O’Driscoll (Leinster, capt), G D’Arcy (Leinster), K Earls (Munster); R O’Gara (Munster), E Reddan (Leinster); C Healy (Leinster), R Best (Ulster), M Ross (Leinster), D O’Callaghan (Munster), P O’Connell (Munster), S O’Brien (Leinster), D Wallace (Munster), J Heaslip (Leinster)
Replacements: S Cronin (Connacht), T Court (Ulster), L Cullen (Leinster), D Leamy (Munster), P Stringer (Munster), J Sexton (Leinster), P Wallace (Ulster)
C Paterson (Edinburgh); N Walker (Ospreys), N De Luca (Edinburgh), S Lamont (Scarlets), M Evans (Glasgow); R Jackson (Glasgow), M Blair (Edinburgh); A Jacobsen (Edinburgh), R Ford (Edinburgh), M Low (Glasgow), R Gray (Glasgow), A Kellock (Glasgow), K Brown (Saracens), J Barclay (Glasgow), J Beattie (Glasgow)
Replacements: S Lawson (Gloucester), G Cross (Edinburgh), N Hines (Leinster), R Vernon (Glasgow), R Lawson (Gloucester), D Parks (Cardiff Blues, S Danielli (Ulster)
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU)