Preview: Scotland v Ireland

Fri, 22 Feb 2013 11:24
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The Scots will feel this as good time as any to put one over their rivals across the Irish sea when they take on Ireland at Murrayfield on Sunday.

The Scots will feel this as good time as any to put one over their rivals across the Irish sea when they take on Ireland at Murrayfield on Sunday.

Scotland go into the fixture with a lot of continuity in their squad and that will be very encouraging for the side for the north whereas the Irish are coming into the test with two newbies in flyhalf Paddy Jackson and inside-centre Luke Marshall.

For Scotland, who finished with the wooden spoon last season, this match sees them having to prove they can cope with the burden of hope.

Despair has long been the default position of Scotland fans during recent dire Six Nations campaigns, but Sunday's match will see them in the unusual position of willing their side to back-up a win after a 34-10 defeat of Italy last time out.

Australian interim Scotland head coach Scott Johnson has made just one change to his side, with Geoff Cross replacing Euan Murray in the front row because the latter's Christian beliefs mean he refuses to play on Sundays.

Turning possession into points has long been a problem for Scotland but with Dutchman Tim Visser and New Zealand-born Sean Maitland on the wings in a back three also featuring Stuart Hogg, the team have run in six tries in their last two matches.

"It's a vast improvement from where we have been in the past in terms of finishing," said Visser.

But that did not distract Johnson from hammering home his oft-repeated theme that it is how they fare at the breakdown that will determine the outcome of Scotland's matches.

"I make no apology for saying again that we have to step up our work in the contact area.  

"Yes, we've some talented athletes in the squad, but we have to give them the opportunities," Johnson mentioned.

With regular flyhalf Jonathan Sexton one of several Ireland players ruled out through injury after a bruising 12-6 defeat by England, Kidney - often regarded as a conservative coach - could simply have called up veteran flyhalf Ronan O'Gara.

But for all he is Ireland's most-capped player, O'Gara faltered when he came off the bench to replace the injured Sexton at Lansdowne Road against England and Kidney has now made the bold call to throw talented 21-year-old Ulsterman Jackson straight in at the deep end of international rugby.

"Paddy's inclusion was a challenge given the stature of Ronan O'Gara, but I think Paddy deserves a go," said Kidney, who has kept O'Gara on the bench.

The Irish side tells a completely different story as they have had to make five changes from the side that played against England at centre and on the wing where Keith Earls comes into the side in the place of the injured Simon Zebo.

Meanwhile, the pack showed two changes, with Tom Court replacing Cian Healy after the loosehead prop was suspended for stamping on England's Dan Cole and lock Donncha O'Callaghan coming in for Mike McCarthy, out with a knee injury.

Players to Watch:

For Scotland: The inform Stuart Hogg is always going to a hand-full for any defence when he counters from deep. Johnnie Beattie is another player that has had a good start to the season and then Tim Visser is another Scottish player that will want to continue his good form.

For Ireland: Rory Best has put his hand up for a Lions berth through a number of strong performances so he will want to continue from that. Newcomer Paddy Jackson is always going to be in the spot-light as he starts his first test at flyhalf. Brian O'Driscoll is also another player to look out for as Ireland look to him for some inspiration.

Head to head: In the front row the important contest will be between the hookers, former Lion Ross Ford taking on Lion hopeful Rory Best. Both players are going to want to impress so they can be on the plane to Australia. Flyhalves Ruaridh Jackson against Paddy Jackson will also be important. Can Jackson dominate the youngster or will Jackson show some enterprise in the Irish play? The two fullbacks will also be another exciting match-up with Stuart Hogg being a major part of Scotlands win against italy and Rob Kearney being a consistantly good performance for the Irish over the last couple of years.

Recent Results:
2012 Ireland 32-14 Dublin
2011 Scotland 10-06 Murrayfield
2011 Ireland 21-18 Murrayfield
2010 Scotland 23-20 Dublin
2009 Ireland 22-15 Murrayfield
2008 Ireland 34-13 Dublin
2007 Ireland 19-18 Murrayfield
2006 Ireland 15-9 Dublin
2005 Ireland 40-13 Murrayfield
2004 Ireland 37-16 Dublin
2003 Ireland 36-6 Murrayfield

Prediction: Scotland have started playing some very attractive rugby and will be incredibly tough to beat at home but we think that Ireland will have too much muscle and experience for the Scots and will win the game by less than 8 points.

The teams:

Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Sean Lamont, 12 Matt Scott,  11 Tim Visser, 10 Ruaridh Jackson, 9 Greig Laidlaw, 8 Johnnie Beattie, 7 Kelly Brown (captain), 6 Robert Harley, 5 Jim Hamilton, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Geoff Cross, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Ryan Grant.
Replacements: 16 Dougie Hall, 17 Jon Welsh, 18 Moray Low, 19 Alastair Kellock, 20 David Denton, 21 Henry Pyrgos, 22 Duncan Weir, 23 Max Evans.

Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 Brian O'Driscoll, 12 Luke Marshall, 11 Keith Earls; 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip (captain), 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Peter O'Mahony, 5 Donnacha Ryan, 4 Donncha O'Callaghan, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Tom Court.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 David Kilcoyne, 18 Declan Fitzpatrick, 19 Devin Toner, 20 Iain Henderson, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Ronan O'Gara, 23 Luke Fitzgerald.

Date: Saturday, 23 February
Venue: Murrayfield, Edinburgh
Kick-off: 16.00 (16.00 GMT)
Expected weather: Cold weekend in the United Kingdom with generally cloudy conditions with some showers expected for Edinburgh. Should mean it is going to be another arm-wrestle with some slippery and heavy conditions. Temperatures will get to a high of 8 degrees and a low of 1 degree.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Jérôme Garces (France), Greg Garner (England)
TMO: Eric Gauzins (France)

AFP & rugby365

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Team P W D L Pts
Ireland 5 5 0 0 26
Wales 5 3 0 2 15
Scotland 5 3 0 2 13
France 5 2 0 3 11
England 5 2 0 3 10
Italy 5 0 0 5 1