Which of these old foes will end the Autumn Nations Cup on a high?

Autumn Nations Cup Ireland v Scotland Preview

Criticism has not been hard to come by this autumn.

While message boards and podcast segments have been thick with barbs for a tournament shorn of crowds, Ireland has talked a lot about their team’s output in the Autumn Nations Cup. They have the chance to finish on a high at home, and have named a side well-stocked with familiar names.

Through retentions and returns, this has the makeup of an Ireland team who knows what strong showings should look like. There are little tweaks here and there, but back is Johnny Sexton to run the show, with trusted half-back partner Conor Murray, Peter O’Mahony is used at seven and centres swap places. But there is a deep expectation that this group shares a knowledge.

What is being suggested is that while results are not what they were at the peak of the Joe Schmidt-led days, though, the comms are better, more relaxed. This week, Murray said: “Now a young player or an experienced player can stop a walk-through and say ‘I don’t know that’ (instead of) maybe try to guess it.”

While Ireland may wish to reaffirm something, however, Scotland have approached this match a little differently. Away from home (Georgia have taken up residence at Murrayfield for their final outing, against Fiji) the team are proudly showing off their rotation system in a few position.

There are of course some trusted custodians in key positions: captain Stuart Hogg will earn his 80th cap, while nine Ali Price, centre Chris Harris and lock Scott Cummings have been ever-present through this period.

But elsewhere you can sense a spirit of throwing some things in the shaker and seeing how it tastes.

The biggest talking point for the visitors is a new name at fly-half, with naturalised playmaker Jaco van der Walt of Edinburgh. Evacuated is cult hero Duncan Weir, who cannot even find a spot on the bench. No recognised ten makes that bench, in fact.

Mind you, it’s not like the others switching in are newbies – there is real good will about the return of Duncan Taylor for example. He last featured against Russia in 2019. Fans often talk about coach Gregor Townsend’s approach to rotation and the man himself has proudly mentioned the number of players used this autumn. What is not discussed really is the hope that the bite in defence shown all year can last one more week.

If the result does not go Scotland’s way, they have seen some new combos and they have given some game time to players who may not have expected it (try not to shudder if you hear about “learnings” post-match). Of course to truly take the next big step, Scotland need to be able to try things out and win Tests against their biggest rivals.

For Ireland, this current regime probably needs a flag-in-the-ground moment. And at this point in the year if feels like a belter between two familiar foes would do everyone some good.

What’s the big team news?

Sexton recovers from a hamstring complaint to skipper Ireland from fly-half.

Elsewhere it comes down to deicisions on positional rivalries. Rob Herring is named at hooker ahead of Rónan Kelleher and Conor Murray starts at nine ahead of Jamison Gibson Park. Meanwhile, Robbie Henshaw is in again and listed at 12 with Bundee Aki lining up with 13 on his back.

On the bench, Ulster loosehead Eric O’Sullivan will await his debut and Josh van der Flier is back as a replacement. There is no room for Tadhg Beirne or Will Conners in the squad.

For Scotland, Worcester rudder Weir disappears completely from the squad, and instead Edinburgh’s van der Walt lines up for a Scotland debut. He is one of six changes to the side that lost to France.

Darcy Graham is back on the wing, Saracens’ Duncan Taylor is selected at inside centre and props Rory Sutherland and Zander Fagerson return to the starting line-up. The back-row also shoogles around with Hamish Watson out – Blade Thomson , Jamie Ritchie and Matt Fagerson make up the unit.

On the bench, Blair Cowan and Huw Jones are back in the fold. Cowan last wore a Scotland shirt in 2016.

What have the coaches said?

Scotland boss Gregor Townsend said of the choise at fly-half: “We have been impressed with Jaco over the time he has trained with us and we’re excited to see him take the next step into international Test match rugby.

“Being able to bring back Rory Sutherland after his recent injury is a real boost and it’s great to involve Blair and Huw for the first time this season.”

Any interesting statistics?

  • 100% – both Ireland and Scotland have landed all of their kicks at goal in the ANC
  • 39 – If Cowan and Jones get on the field for Scotland, they will have used 39 different player through the autumn
  • Ireland have won eight of their last nine matches against Scotland
  • 55 – Ireland have won both of their home games in the ANC, scoring a combined 55 points against Wales and Georgia
  • 80 – number of caps for Stuart Hogg (28)
  • Scotland have won their last three away games (against Italy twice, and Wales)
Autumn Nations Cup Ireland v Scotland preview

Open talk: ref Matt Carley with Conor Murray in 2019 (Getty Images)

What time does it kick off and is it on TV?

Ireland v Scotland, Saturday 5 December, Aviva Stadium

The match kicks off at 2.15pm and will be broadcast live on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and RTE2 in Ireland. If you’re outside the UK and Ireland, check out our guide to Autumn Nations Cup coverage around the world.

Matt Carley of England will referee the match with countryman Karl Dickson and France’s Romain Poite as his assistants. Dan Jones (Wales) is the Television Match Official.

What are the line-ups?

Ireland: Jacob Stockdale; Hugo Keenan, Bundee Aki, Robbie Henshaw, Keith Earls; Jonathan Sexton (capt), Conor Murray; Cian Healy, Rob Herring, Andrew Porter; Iain Henderson, James Ryan; CJ Stander, Peter O’Mahony, Caelan Doris.

Replacements: Ronán Kelleher, Eric O’Sullivan, John Ryan, Quinn Roux, Josh van der Flier, Jamison Gibson-Park, Ross Byrne, Chris Farrell.

Scotland: Stuart Hogg (captain); Darcy Graham, Chris Harris, Duncan Taylor, Duhan van der Merwe; Jaco van der Walt, Ali Price; Rory Sutherland, Fraser Brown, Zander Fagerson, Scott Cummings, Jonny Gray, Blade Thomson, Jamie Ritchie, Matt Fagerson.

Replacements: Stuart McInally, Oli Kebble, WP Nel, Sam Skinner, Blair Cowan, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Huw Jones, Sean Maitland.

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