All the details you need for this titanic round four fixture at Murrayfield on Sunday
Six Nations Scotland v Ireland Preview
Intrigue abounds across the penultimate round of the Guinness Six Nations – but there is no denying that the best has been saved until last. The meeting of Scotland and Ireland on Sunday afternoon (3pm) brings together the top two sides in the table heading into the weekend – and with almost everything on the line.
For Ireland, anything less than a Grand Slam next week – to follow those of 2009, 2018 and, from the Five Nations era, 1948 – would be a crushing disappointment given the electrifying inventiveness of their attacking game and their bullying destructiveness without the ball.
For that to happen, Andy Farrell’s men must first fend off a Scotland team chasing their own piece of history – victory would give them a first Triple Crown since the days of Hastings, Calder and Jeffrey in 1990. Scotland have never been in contention for the title on the final day since Five became Six in 2000, but that will change if they can pull the rug from under an Irish team seeking an 11th win in 12 championship matches.
Fourteen years ago, Ireland went to Edinburgh in round four and were given a hell of a battle before prevailing 22-15. The Grand Slam was secured the following week.
The visitors have their big guns back and are fully loaded. Scotland will not be cowed. Their second-half dominance in Paris was the sign of a team brimming with skill and belief and resilience. “They can open up any team in the world,” said Sir Ian McGeechan.
Stuart Hogg plays his 100th Test for Scotland and let’s hope he plays a blinder. He has been a beacon of brilliance for his country pretty much ever since the then teenager came on for the injured Max Evans in Cardiff 11 years ago.
A Triple Crown would be fitting reward for Hogg but if the match goes to form, Ireland will deny him. They’ll return to Dublin licking their lips at a Super Saturday date with England.
Should they win with a bonus point at Murrayfield, and the winner of England v France fail to do the same, Ireland will have their first Six Nations title since 2018. But the Slam is the goal.
What’s the big team news?
Scotland make just two changes from the side beaten by France – and one of those is enforced. Grant Gilchrist is suspended following his red card for a high tackle on Anthony Jelonch, so Jonny Gray steps up to partner his brother Richie in the second row.
Gilchrist’s early departure in Paris led to Hamish Watson being sacrificed in an emergency reshuffle and the luckless Edinburgh back-row now finds himself on the bench as Scotland give a start at No 8 to Jack Dempsey. Matt Fagerson and captain Jamie Ritchie shift to the six and seven shirts respectively.
On the bench, Scott Cummings is poised for his first involvement of this year’s Six Nations.
Ireland make six changes to their starting team following their 34-20 win in Rome. Skipper Johnny Sexton returns at fly-half for Ross Byrne after a groin problem and partners Conor Murray, who impressed off the bench last time out. Jamison Gibson-Park supplants Craig Casey in the match-day 23.
Garry Ringrose, who withdrew late for the Italy match with a calf injury, is fit again and partners Bundee Aki in midfield. Aki reverts to his usual No 12 shirt.
Tighthead Tadhg Furlong (calf) and hooker Dan Sheehan (hamstring) join Andrew Porter in a full-strength front row. Furlong, who hasn’t started a game since 3 December, replaces Connacht’s Finlay Bealham, who is out of the championship following a knee injury.
And there’s a recall for blindside Peter O’Mahony, one of those rested for the match in Italy. That means Caelan Doris switching back to his more familiar position of No 8.
The replacements include Robbie Henshaw, who hasn’t played since November because of hamstring and wrist injuries.
What’s being said in the camps?
Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend on Stuart Hogg: “I was assistant coach when Stuart won his first cap down in Wales. He’s always had a great all-round skill-set; his catch-pass, his running ability, his understanding of the game has been at a high level since he was 18.
“I remember watching him play as a 16-year-old for Hawick in the Gala Sevens, playing for Scotland U18s, scoring a brilliant try for Scotland A. And then going on to have a wonderful international career. He’s trained really well this week, he’s highly motivated and we’re looking forward to seeing him win that 100th cap.”
On Dempsey starting: “Jack has done really well off the bench and has been training at a really high level. And we feel it’s the right time and the right opposition for him to start. Scott Cummings and Hamish can add real speed off the bench.”
On Ireland: “Ireland play really efficient, effective rugby. They’re very good in the contact area, strong set-piece, really good defensive team, conceded the least amount of tries this season. And they have a cohesion in how they attack that has shown they can beat anyone.
“They’re the best team in the world over the last couple of years’ results. But we’re looking forward to the challenge, you want to go up against the best teams in the world. You want to improve as well from the last game and that’s what we’ve been working on this week.”
Ireland captain Johnny Sexton: “This is definitely the best Scottish team I’ve played against. Their results show that. Beating England regularly, beating France a few times, beating Wales recently. So they’ve had some big wins over the last number of years and have been building nicely. They’ve brought in a lot of new players which has made the team stronger.
“It’s going to make for a very special atmosphere over there. It always is a special atmosphere even if there’s nothing on the line, but this is a huge game with them going for a Triple Crown and the championship, and us obviously in the championship (race) and wanting to win a Triple Crown ourselves. It’s a massive game and great to be a part of.”
Ireland head coach Andy Farrell on Furlong: “Some players can and some players can’t and he’s across his detail like no other. He brings confidence to the team by how he prepares and that gives us confidence to know that he’s ready to play.
“He’s a world-class prop and a great leader. When you look around the changing room there are certain players that give a sense of confidence whether they’re playing or not and he’s one of them.”
On Scotland: “They’re the whole package as far as (how) they’re playing. They’ve always been a really tough side to break down. You name me a game where they’ve not been confident going into a game against Ireland. Rightly so really, because we’ve always had ding-dong battles with them. It’s always been really tough and this is no different.”
Any interesting statistics?
- Ireland will retain top spot in the world rankings if they avoid defeat. If they lose and France win at Twickenham, les Bleus will displace them at No 1
- Ireland lead Scotland 19-4 in their Six Nations head-to-head, including winning the last five meetings. In only one of those five games did Scotland score more than one try
- The Centenary Quaich, awarded to the winner of this contest, was introduced in 1989
- Johnny Sexton (550) needs just eight points to overtake Ronan O’Gara (557) as the top scorer in Six Nations history. He has averaged 11.3 points a game in his previous ten championship starts against Scotland
- Stuart Hogg will win his 100th cap for Scotland. It makes him the fourth Scot to reach that landmark after Ross Ford, Chris Paterson and Sean Lamont
- Ireland have recorded more 22 entries per match than any other side in this year’s Six Nations (11.3), while Scotland have scored the most points per 22 entry (3.2)
- Ireland’s Garry Ringrose will earn his 50th cap in this match
- Fly-half Finn Russell has made the most carries (45), offloads (six) and try assists (four) in this year’s championship
- Wing Duhan van der Merwe has beaten 21 defenders – the most in the tournament
- Ireland have an average ruck speed of 3.12 seconds – the quickest in the championship
- Only Italy (70%) have completed more rucks in 3 seconds or less than both Ireland (64%) and Scotland (62%)
- Scotland have the highest tackle success rate (90%), having missed the fewest tackles of any side (55). They’ve also conceded a championship-low ten line breaks this campaign
- Ireland have scored four or more tries in each of their last six matches – the longest run in the championship. England’s run of five (2003-04) was the previous record
What time does it kick off and is it on TV?
Scotland v Ireland, Sunday 12 March, BT Murrayfield.
The match kicks off at 3pm and will be shown on BBC1 and RTÈ2. You can listen to coverage on BBC Radio 5 Sports Extra.
Luke Pearce, one of the best referees in the business, takes charge of this fixture for the first time. Scotland lost their last match with Pearce in the middle – 16-15 to Australia last October – while Ireland have won four of five Tests under the RFU official’s jurisdiction.
Wayne Barnes and Christophe Ridley are assistant referees while Stuart Terheege is the Television Match Official in an all-English quartet.
What are the line-ups?
Scotland Stuart Hogg; Kyle Steyn, Huw Jones, Sione Tuipulotu, Duhan van der Merwe; Finn Russell, Ben White; Pierre Schoeman, George Turner, Zander Fagerson, Richie Gray, Jonny Gray, Matt Fagerson, Jamie Ritchie (capt), Jack Dempsey.
Replacements 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Jamie Bhatti, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Scott Cummings, 20 Hamish Watson, 21 Ali Price, Blair Kinghorn, 23 Chris Harris.
Ireland Hugo Keenan; Mack Hansen, Garry Ringrose, Bundee Aki, James Lowe; Johnny Sexton (capt), Conor Murray; Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan, Tadhg Furlong, Iain Henderson, James Ryan, Peter O’Mahony, Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris.
Replacements: 16 Ronan Kelleher, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Tom O’Toole, 19 Ryan Baird, 20 Jack Conan, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Robbie Henshaw.
Download the digital edition of Rugby World straight to your tablet or subscribe to the print edition to get the magazine delivered to your door.
Follow Rugby World on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.