Home Features Three Key Battles Ireland Must Win Against Scotland To Keep Grand Slam Ambitions On Track

Three Key Battles Ireland Must Win Against Scotland To Keep Grand Slam Ambitions On Track

Ireland resume their NatWest 6 Nations campaign against Scotland on Saturday and following their opening Test defeat to the northern nation last year, Joe Schmidt’s side will be keen not to repeat that loss.

As the only side remaining in the hunt for the Grand Slam, Ireland must ignore the distractions that come with that elusive achievement and focus simply on winning.

Scotland have continued to improve under Gregor Townsend, following the initial improvements delivered at the hands of previous head coach Vern Cotter.

Their defeat of England in Murrayfield two weeks ago underlined their threat and growing status in the game as more than just a giant killer, but rather, as giants themselves.

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - FEBRUARY 24: The Scotland team celebrate winning the Calcutta Cup following the NatWest Six Nations match between Scotland and England at Murrayfield on February 24, 2018 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by David Rogers - RFU/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

With their own title aspirations having received a boost from their Calcutta Cup victory, Scotland will arrive in Dublin brimming with confidence and intent.

Having paid much lip service to the quality of Ireland and the immense challenge they pose, Townsend and co will be backing themselves to beat the championship leaders at the Aviva Stadium.

Joe Schmidt and his Ireland squad will be aware of the honey being poured in their ears and know that they will face a dangerous Scotland side on Saturday.

While they cannot be complacent and must hit the ground running, lest they allow Scotland to do just that, there are a number of key battles they must win if they wish to win the war.

The Lineout

Having been uncharacteristically dominated at this particular set piece when the two sides met in Edinburgh last year, Schmidt has chosen to keep the returning British and Irish Lion Iain Henderson on the bench, in favour of the towering figure of Devin Toner.

Italy v Ireland - RBS Six Nations

At 6′ 11″, the Leinster lock is the recipient of choice more often than not for Ireland and set to face off against Scotland’s Jonny Gray and an ever-improving line out, Toner will once again be pivotal in ensuring Ireland have a strong and stable maul from which to mount an attack.

The home side head into the Test with a better lineout success rate (92.6%, or 38 from 41) than the visitors (84%, 32 from 38), but on the day it comes down to which side can exert their influence best.

The Centre

Luckily blessed with a wealth of riches at No.s 12 and 13, Joe Schmidt has had to call upon this third new centre pairing of the campaign for the clash with Scotland.

The loss of Robbie Henshaw to a dislocated shoulder during the victory over Italy saw Munster’s Chris Farrell partner Bundee Aki for the impressive defeat of Wales in what was a Man of the Match performance for the international newcomer.

A training ground knee injury, however, has cruelly ruled out the in-form centre for the rest of the season and Schmidt has had to call into action the fit-again Garry Ringrose for the Scotland Test.

Low on match day experience following a brace of injuries, the 23-year-old will find himself contending with one of the contenders for player of the tournament, Huw Jones.

The 24-year-old has been a rampant and near unstoppable force over the first three rounds, his pair of tries against England cementing his status as a man to watch.

While Irish eyes will be watching for some of the magic that Ringrose possesses in abundance, there will likely be an equal amount of trepidation over how he and Aki will manage the explosive power of Jones.

Failure to contain the 24-year-old, as England did two weeks ago, could well provide a platform for the visitors to routinely attack the Irish try line.

The Half-Backs

As with any Test, the half-backs are the fulcrum around which a defence or attack is mounted. On Saturday this will be no different when the pairings of Jonathan Sexton and Conor Murray go head-to-head with Finn Russell and Greig Laidlaw.

The home side has the luxury of being able to call upon one of the best half-back duos in world rugby and their experience, game management and attacking threats are well known and lauded.

Similarly for Scotland, class and experience can be brought to bear in Russell and Laidlaw. The Scotland No.10 had endured something of a troubled opening two rounds, where his performance was particularly scrutinised during the harrowing defeat to Wales.

Having bounced back with an assured display against England, Russell will have brushed away any doubts and will head to Dublin ready to impress alongside the ever-steady Greig Laidlaw.

With Ireland likely, on paper, to enjoy superiority in the set piece and forwards battle, the half-backs will be tasked with controlling the bruising chess match and keeping their opponents guessing, all the while keeping the scoreboard ticking over.

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With equally enthralling contests set to take place on the wings and through the pack, Ireland’s favourites tag is not something either side will pay any heed to.

Both sides are similarly matched and it will likely come down to which side can perform to their abilities best and quickest.

A win for Ireland will see them put one hand on the trophy, a bonus point win all but assuring glory.

Victory for Scotland and the final round of matches next weekend will see the title destination remaining unknown until right at the death of another incredible Six Nations.

Kick off between Ireland and Scotland at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday is at 2:15 PM.

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