Match preview: Scotland v Ireland, 6 Nations 2017

KO 2.25 at Murrayfield Stadium, Saturday 19th March
Live on BBC1

Scotland need to overcome a severe tendency towards slow starts if they are to overcome Ireland on Saturday. The dark blues have only won their opening fixture once since the Six Nations started, leaving them off the pace before their Championship challenge has even had a chance to get started.

SCOTLAND
15 Stuart Hogg
14 Sean Maitland
13 Huw Jones
12 Alex Dunbar
11 Tommy Seymour
10 Finn Russell
9 Greig Laidlaw (c)
HEAD-TO-HEAD
ADV Scotland
EVEN
EVEN
ADV Ireland
ADV Scotland
ADV Scotland
ADV Ireland
IRELAND
15 Rob Kearney
14 Keith Earls
13 Gary Ringrose
12 Robbie Henshaw
11 Simon Zebo
10 Paddy Jackson
9 Conor Murray

1 Allan Dell
2 Fraser Brown
3 Zander Fagerson
4 Richie Gray
5 Jonny Gray
6 Ryan Wilson
7 Hamish Watson
8 Josh Strauss

ADV Ireland
ADV Ireland
ADV Ireland
ADV Scotland
ADV Scotland
ADV Ireland
ADV Ireland
ADV Ireland

1 Jack McGrath
2 Rory Best (c)
3 Tadhg Furlong
4 Devin Toner
5 Iain Henderson
6 CJ Stander
7 Sean O’Brien
8 Jamie Heaslip

16 Ross Ford
17 Gordon Reid
18 Simon Berghan
19 Tim Swinson
20 John Barclay
21 Ali Price
22 Duncan Weir
23 Mark Bennett

ADV Scotland
ADV Ireland
ADV Ireland
ADV Scotland
ADV Scotland
ADV Scotland
ADV Ireland
ADV Ireland

16 Niall Scannell
17 Cian Healy
18 John Ryan
19 Ultan Dillane
20 Josh van der Flier
21 Kieran Marmion
22 Ian Keatley
23 Tommy Bowe

Overall
Backs – advantage Scotland
Out wide Scotland look stronger but it’s Ireland who have been better at getting their midfield and outside backs involved in the game. That starts with quick ball from the breakdown and a scrum half who is always pressing to be on the front foot.
Forwards – advantage Ireland
Some of the margins of difference are small – but they are undoubtedly there and Scotland will need to play to their very best form, swept on by a home crowd if they are to win the battles in this area.
Subs – even
A big part of Scotland’s improvement has been down to increasing competition for places and strength in depth, making the contest between the benches far closer than it might have been a year or two ago.

Team Talk
Scotland make just 3 changes from their last Test against Georgia with Ford, Bennett and Harley the men to miss out on the starting XV. It’s a similar number of alterations for Ireland with Trimble, Payne and van der Flier absent from the side that started the win over Australia.

Ireland Scouting Report:

  • Irish discipline is freakishly good – meaning little in the way of easy points or field position. They averaged just 3.7 penalties per game across 3 intense Test matches against New Zealand (twice) and Australia.
  • The Ireland scrum is a model of solidity, with a success rate of 96% in the Autumn (Scotland 79%) and winning 6 more penalties than they conceded (Scotland conceded 9 more penalties than they won). The home side must minimise any disadvantage in this area with a quick hook on their own ball; then cut out handling errors and opportunities for choke tackles to reduce the number of Irish put-ins.
  • The visitors’ lineout can be vulnerable and the Gray brothers plus Ryan Wilson have to be dynamic and target getting up in front of Toner and chums in order to put pressure on Rory Best.
  • The Scottish defence cannot expect a one-dimensional approach from their opponents. There is more variety in attack these days for Joe Schmidt’s men – they averaged 7 offloads per game in November against 2.5 per game in the Six Nations (excluding their match against Italy).
  • Inside centre is the dominant figure in the Irish backline. The midfield carried the ball 63 times in 3 Tier 1 matches during the Autumn, with the man wearing 12 on the ball 70% of the time. (By contrast Scotland’s centres split their duties 50/50 and only managed 34 total carries in their November games).

Previous results
This will be the 9th time the 2 sides have met in Edinburgh in the Six Nations. Scotland have managed just two wins on home turf. Only France (7 wins out of 8) have a better record at Murrayfield during this period…

W L L L   L L W L

Most recent meeting at Murrayfield:

Scotland 10-40 Ireland

19 out of 46 players return from that fixture – 8 for the home side and 11 for the visitors. Just 5 Scots (Hogg, Seymour, Russell, Laidlaw and J. Gray) are back again after being in the XV that suffered that chastening defeat (7 Irish starters will have rather happier memories!)

Significant stats from that game

Turnovers:
Scotland 20 Ireland 11
Despite having around 10% less possession than their opponents Scotland contrived to hand the ball back almost twice as often. With no consistency or ability to build phases the Scottish attack was rendered completely ineffective. It won’t matter how in form Tommy Seymour and Stuart Hogg are if the ball is spilled before it reaches them.

2nd half territory:
Scotland 26% Ireland 74%
There was a huge difference in what was riding on the game for the 2 sides. Scotland had nothing to play for but pride; Ireland were chasing a Championship. Even still the second half must have been enough to make Vern Cotter question why he had taken the job as the match took on the appearance of an opposed training run in the home side’s half. The departing coach will expect a much bigger effort this time around.

Carries by forwards:
Scotland 48 Ireland 78
The Irish pack outworked their opponents, setting the platform for the backs and giving Conor Murray an armchair ride. With Henderson and Stander added to the starting 8 there will be plenty of go forward in the green jerseys. Scotland may feel they are better placed to compete with the front row an upgrade in terms of carrying and the in form Strauss and Wilson complementing the 2 Grays.

Officials:
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant Referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), Nick Briant (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)

Monsieur Poite averages a game a year in charge of Scotland matches – since 2011 he has presided over 1 win and 5 losses for the dark blues. It’s been a mixed bag in terms of punitive actions with the Scots winning the penalty count 3 times and losing the other 3. It’s 4 v 3 against Scotland in terms of yellow cards – an area the home side know they need to come out on top in after conceding 3 tries while a man down in Dublin last year.

The French referee has earned his nickname of “Random” Poite by being somewhat hard to predict, particularly at the scrum and the breakdown. The side that can adapt fastest to his calls on the day are likely to gain an important advantage. He also clearly has the balls to make the big calls:

(That is of course a parody account before any Irish fans get too concerned!)

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