By Bea Asprey, Rugby World Writer
IT’S been a bruising week for Ireland. Their match against France was not only mentally draining, given their disappointment at throwing away an 11-point half-time lead to come away with a draw, but it also cost them their captain and scrum-half. Then no sooner had Rory Best inherited the captain’s armband from Paul O’Connell, and Eoin Reddan filled Conor Murray’s No 9 jersey, than Sean O’Brien had to withdraw from this weekend’s Scotland clash, to be replaced by Munster youngster Peter O’Mahony. Scotland’s week has been plain sailing in comparison, but I still don’t fancy their chances at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.
Though Ireland threw away the chance to win in Paris for the first time in 12 years, they played some good rugby throughout the game and especially in the first half. They silenced the French crowd for the majority of the match thanks to their dominance, and coming so close to beating the World Cup runners up won’t have been lost on them. Scotland, in comparison, are scraping the barrel. They haven’t won a game yet this tournament, and have thrown away chances to do so, and questions are starting to be asked about how long the current coaching team can remain at Murrayfield with a run of poor results. Though they overcame Ireland at Croke Park two years ago, their record in Dublin is poor, and they have only beaten them on two other occasions in the last 10 years – both in Edinburgh.
Try, try and try again
Scotland fans breathed a sigh of relief when Greig Laidlaw scored a try against Wales, and two followed, courtesy of Stuart Hogg and Lee Jones, against France. But Tommy Bowe has scored two more tries than that himself, and in a packed Aviva Stadium Ireland’s backs are capable of doing some serious damage – as Italy found out two weeks ago. It’ll be crucial for Scotland to start strongly if they hope to match Ireland, but it’s questionable whether they’ll have the composure to achieve a lead.
Element of surprise
Losing Sean O’Brien, last year’s European Player of the Year, is a blow, but Ireland coach Declan Kidney is seeing the positives in bringing in O’Mahony in his place. He said: “The benefit of the change is that Scotland won’t have been able to analyse him as much as if he’d several caps under his belt. You can look at this as a disruption to us, but maybe it’s a disruption to Scotland. Perhaps they’ll have been anticipating a different type of challenge. They may have to adjust to us now.” Furthermore, Donncha Ryan has been pushing hard for a starting place in the second row, even if, admittedly, Kidney may have included him at Donncha O’Callaghan’s expense instead of O’Connell’s had he had a choice.
IRELAND v SCOTLAND, AVIVA STADIUM, SATURDAY 10 MARCH, KICK-OFF 5pm. Live on BBC 1.
Ireland: Rob Kearney; Tommy Bowe, Keith Earls, Gordon D’Arcy, Andrew Trimble; Jonathan Sexton, Eoin Redddan; Cian Healy, Rory Best (capt), Mike Ross, Donncha O’Callaghan, Donncha Ryan, Stephen Ferris, Peter O’Mahony, Jamie Heaslip.
Replacements: Sean Cronin, Tom Court, Mike McCarthy, Shane Jennings, Tomás O’Leary, Ronan O’Gara, Fergus McFadden.
Scotland: Stuart Hogg; Lee Jones, Nick De Luca, Graeme Morrison, Sean Lamont; Greig Laidlaw, Mike Blair; Allan Jacobsen, Ross Ford (capt), Geoff Cross, Richie Gray, Jim Hamilton, John Barclay, Ross Rennie, David Denton.
Replacements: Scott Lawson, Euan Murray, Al Kellock, Richie Vernon, Chris Cusiter, Ruaridh Jackson, Max Evans.
Referee: Chris Pollock (NZ)