Match Preview – Ireland vs Scotland


Johnny Sexton will hope to lead Ireland to a Triple Crown success, while Scotland's Stuart Hogg seeks victory

Johnny Sexton will hope to lead Ireland to a Triple Crown success, while Scotland’s Stuart Hogg seeks victory

We look at key talking points for Ireland vs Scotland in the Six Nations on Saturday, including Ireland seeking to pile pressure on France, and Scotland experiencing another flat campaign…

Ireland seeking silverware and to pile pressure on France

In Dublin on Saturday, the task is clear for Ireland: beat Scotland at the Aviva Stadium to confirm a first Triple Crown triumph since 2018, and in doing so move temporarily top of the Six Nations table before France kick a ball.

Thereafter, Ireland would need England to beat France in Paris, and were that to happen, Andy Farrell’s side would be crowned championship winners.

Ireland's Round 4 victory at Twickenham has put them a win away from claiming a Triple Crown - a first since 2018, and first on home soil for 18 years

Ireland’s Round 4 victory at Twickenham has put them a win away from claiming a Triple Crown – a first since 2018, and first on home soil for 18 years

Ireland’s clash with Scotland is a 4.45pm kick-off, while France vs England doesn’t start until 8pm GMT. The incentive for Ireland, therefore, is to go out and put as much pressure on Les Bleus as possible before the late game. In addition to the obvious carrot of silverware being on the line in Dublin anyway.

Six Nations title wins in 2009, 2014, 2015 and 2018 all came away from home for Ireland, and as skipper Johnny Sexton remarked post-match in the bowels of Twickenham last week, Ireland have very seldom had the opportunity to play for silverware at the Aviva Stadium at all.

Johnny Sexton believes Ireland would have slipped to defeat against 14-man England had the match been played a couple of years ago.

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Johnny Sexton believes Ireland would have slipped to defeat against 14-man England had the match been played a couple of years ago.

Johnny Sexton believes Ireland would have slipped to defeat against 14-man England had the match been played a couple of years ago.

A word of caution though, the 2010 Six Nations – coincidentally the last time France won a Grand Slam, beating England in Paris – saw Ireland beat England at Twickenham and Wales in Dublin to set up a Triple Crown clash vs Scotland in Dublin in Round 5, only to suffer a 23-20 defeat and let it slip through their grasp.

That Test is also the last occasion Scotland won in the Irish capital, losing all seven trips to Dublin since.

Another Scotland campaign to fall flat?

Since Scotland’s last championship title success in 1999 – before even the addition of Italy to form a Six Nations – there have been periods of great hope, but perhaps never the optimism that existed in 2022.

Gregor Townsend’s charges headed into this year’s championship off the back of consecutive years in which they beat France, and having won at Twickenham for the first time since 1983 last year.

In fact, Scotland ticked off a number of milestones on the road over the previous two Six Nations campaigns. In 2020, they won in Wales for the first time since 2002, while last year their victory in Paris was their first in the French capital since 1999, to sit alongside their Twickenham exploits – albeit all three were played behind closed doors.

Calcutta Cup success in Round 1 put Scottish expectation and optimism at an all-time high

Calcutta Cup success in Round 1 put Scottish expectation and optimism at an all-time high

The Scots had beaten each side in the tournament over the last two years bar Ireland, and started their 2022 campaign with a morale-boosting 20-17 victory over England at Murrayfield, putting expectation and hope at an all-time high.

As has so often proven the case with this Scotland side though, consistency of performance has alluded them.

Gregor Townsend’s charges followed up a superb result in victory over England with a hugely damaging defeat to Wales in Cardiff – a Welsh side who had been dismantled by Ireland 29-7 the week before. That Test was a huge opportunity for Scotland to put their hands up as title challengers, but they failed to take it.

Scotland's defeat in Cardiff in Round 2 was a major missed opportunity

Scotland’s defeat in Cardiff in Round 2 was a major missed opportunity

In Round 3, having picked up some key injuries to the likes of Rory Sutherland, Jamie Ritchie, Matt Fagerson and Jonny Gray, in addition to Hamish Watson being ruled out through Covid, Scotland were well-beaten at home to France, killing hopes of trophy success for another season.

Scotland captain Stuart Hogg said their Six Nations defeat to France was not a true reflection of what they are capable of

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Scotland captain Stuart Hogg said their Six Nations defeat to France was not a true reflection of what they are capable of

Scotland captain Stuart Hogg said their Six Nations defeat to France was not a true reflection of what they are capable of

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend reflected on their Six Nations defeat to France

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Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend reflected on their Six Nations defeat to France

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend reflected on their Six Nations defeat to France

They may have picked up some big scalps in recent years, and felt they were on the precipice of a genuine challenge for the title at different points, but 2022 is a campaign that is likely to fall flat again for the Scots.

A battle of talented backlines | Finn Russell dropped

Both sides head into this game with backlines chock-filled with talent, running ability and pace.

Scotland skipper Stuart Hogg is a marvellous attacking player, while wing Darcy Graham is one of the most exciting players in the European game.

Scotland's Darcy Graham is a superb attacking wing

Scotland’s Darcy Graham is a superb attacking wing

Ireland full-back Hugo Keenan has been one of the most consistent performers in world rugby over the last couple of years, while wings Mack Hansen and James Lowe both bring a loose, offloading style of play which is often highly effective.

Centre Garry Ringrose, playmaker Sexton and scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park have all attacked with a particular verve, while Scotland scrum-half Ali Price is in the form of his career.

The headline news without a shadow of a doubt is the dropping of Finn Russell to the subs bench in favour of Edinburgh’s Blair Kinghorn, though.

Russell previously fell out with Townsend to miss all international rugby in 2020 before repairing the relationship to return in 2021, but his omission comes out of the blue.

“I’d prefer to focus on what Blair has done and how well he’s played and how he’s deserved his opportunity, which he certainly has with his performances throughout the season,” a cagey Townsend said on Thursday of the decision.

Finn Russell dropping to the bench is the headline team news from either side

Finn Russell dropping to the bench is the headline team news from either side

“We see this as an opportunity for Blair. He’s been in really good form. He wasn’t available for our match (in Rome) last week (due to personal reasons) but the week before that he played his best game of the season against Connacht.

Asked how Russell reacted to the news that he will not be starting in Dublin, Townsend said: “OK, yeah, fine. Like any conversation when you give someone news that they’re not starting, they’re initially disappointed but they support the team. Finn will support Blair, as he has done this week.”

Focus on the scrum

If there was one area in particular Ireland would have been frustrated with after victory at Twickenham, it was at the scrum where they gave up some six penalties.

It was most unlike Farrell’s charges, notwithstanding Andrew Porter’s injury absence, and while there may have been more than a hint of England walking around the corner as opposed to driving straight to earn decisions from referee Mathieu Raynal, their scrum will be under scrutiny on Saturday.

Ireland would have paid particular attention to the scrum in training this week

Ireland would have paid particular attention to the scrum in training this week

The same front-row of Cian Healy, Dan Sheehan and Tadhg Furlong has been named by Farrell, as well as the same three replacements in Rob Herring, Dave Kilcoyne and Finlay Bealham. The four props and two hookers are sure to have paid even more attention to the scrum at training during the week.

Furlong in particular is likely to be an angry man waiting to be unleashed, but Scotland’s scrum is no longer the weak link it once was, even without loosehead Sutherland.

Tadhg Furlong is likely to be a man seeking to impose himself on Saturday's Test

Tadhg Furlong is likely to be a man seeking to impose himself on Saturday’s Test

Pierre Schoeman, George Turner and Zander Fagerson are not a unit to be taken likely.

Team News

Ireland: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Mack Hansen, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 James Lowe, 10 Johnny Sexton (c), 9 Jamison Gibson-Park; 1 Cian Healy, 2 Dan Sheehan, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 4 Tadhg Beirne, 5 Iain Henderson, 6 Caelan Doris, 7 Josh van der Flier, 8 Jack Conan.

Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Kieran Treadwell, 20 Peter O’Mahony, 21 Conor Murray, 22 Joey Carbery, 23 Robbie Henshaw.

Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg (c), 14 Darcy Graham, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 Kyle Steyn, 10 Blair Kinghorn, 9 Ali Price; 1 Pierre Schoeman, 2 George Turner, 3 Zander Fagerson, 4 Jonny Gray, 5 Grant Gilchrist, 6 Rory Darge, 7 Hamish Watson, 8 Matt Fagerson.

Replacements: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Allan Dell, 18 WP Nel, 19 Sam Skinner, 20 Josh Bayliss, 21 Ben White, 22 Finn Russell, 23 Mark Bennett.





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