Updated: Jun 22, 2020
The memories and pain of Yokohama still linger as Scotland take on Ireland this afternoon in Dublin. I don’t think I have ever seen a group of players so shattered in defeat as I did back in September last year when Scotland went down by 27 points to 3 against the same opposition in the opening game of their rugby world cup campaign.
Surely this hurt will act as a massive spur? Scotland contributed to their own downfall that day, but I sense that the lessons learned in defeat can be used to create a winning performance today.
Numerous retirements; changes to the coaching structure, injuries and the wielding of an axe to several individuals has laid the foundations. This is a new look team; a new dawn, a new era and it is up to the players to respond accordingly.
They have the experience; they have the attacking ability but mentally they have to be attuned to the match for the full 80 minutes.
These are the 3 areas that Scotland need to get right if they are to win in Dublin today.
1. Forward parity. My original heading was ‘forward dominance’ but Ireland have a tremendous pack and on paper look stronger. Scotland’s forwards however have more to offer. From Fraser Brown’s excellence in ball carrying and defence, to the back-row combo of Jamie Ritchie and Hamish Watson. Brown plays the role of a third flanker in this team and all 3 players can get into places ahead of their opposite numbers. By competing at the breakdown their ability to turnover and disrupt opposition ball is a strong asset to Scotland’s game. Zander Fagerson needs to up his game against Cian Healey but as ball carrier he does get around the pitch and his work rate is high. The Glasgow pairing of Jonny Gray and Scott Cummings have been shining brightly recently and whist Cummings runs some very good carrying lines I believe his energy has rubbed off on Gray who as we know delivers consistency time and time again. However this pack is not about any one individual; it’s all about the collective effort and for the new cap Nick Haining he will need to find his feet quickly as the pace of International rugby is a step up in intensity from what he has experienced at Edinburgh.
2. Defence. This is an area that needs to be improved. Line speed is critical to put the opposition attack under stress and if anything, Scotland really need to study their opposition to see how well it is done. Ireland are masters at this area of the game but if Scotland can meet the ball carrier on the gain line then they can stop Ireland’s half-back paring of Connor Murray and Jonny Sexton influence on the game.
3. Keep the attack simple. With the absence of Finn Russell, there is a lot of pressure on my nephew Adam Hastings to perform in his first 6 Nations start but he has been playing with real vision and control for several weeks now. One of the main reasons for this is that those around him at Glasgow have also been playing well. The return to form of Huw Jones and his selection in the midfield alongside Sam Johnson offers Adam handling alternatives to his kicking game but where I would like to see improvement is by keeping the attack moves simple. If the backs can pull Ireland’s mid-field out of position there is enough pace in Jones, Hogg and Kinghorn to score tries.
A win in Dublin is overdue. Scotland have never beaten Ireland in the Aviva stadium and it has been 10 years since their last win in Dublin. That match was played at Croke Park and the performance that day denied Ireland a triple crown. Scotland will need to summon the same fire and determination that they showed that day and whilst it is fair to say that Ireland have the hoodoo over Scotland, I do believe that the team are due a win.
3 Key players.
1. I mentioned Adam Hastings earlier but I am looking forward to seeing how Ali Price dictates the pace of the game. He has a good pass and likes to attack the fringes. His battle for the No9 jersey at Glasgow and for Scotland with George Horne has been a real talking point but Price’s calmer head give him the nod.
2. Rory Sutherland. Probably has the toughest job on the pitch today in scrummaging against Tadgh Furlong but the home-grown tighthead has been in good form for Edinburgh and has the frame and attitude to be a standout player if he knuckles down and scrummages well. Everything else is a bonus after that.
3. Captain Hogg. Stuart Hogg has all the attacking qualities required at international level but how he leads as skipper today will be a fascinating watch. He has not been at his best recently but a commanding performance will have others wanting to get in on the act and support his lines of running.