All the details you need for this Super Saturday fixture at the Aviva Stadium

Six Nations Ireland v Scotland Preview

It’s more fashionable than mullets these days (Ed: Oh god, are they properly back?!) to use the phrase: you can only control the controllable. So Ireland are going to focus on winning in Dublin against Scotland, and if England do them a favour and win in Paris later in the day then – wahey! – the Six Nations title will be theirs.

Well. Actually… It’s a bit more complex than that.

Six Nations Super Saturday climaxes with France v England and if the host win that one, they have a Grand Slam and a championship title. But if France lose or draw (without scoring four tries for a bonus point) at the Stade de France, and Ireland beat Scotland earlier in the day, it is Andy Farrell‘s side who will lift the trophy. Got it?

And it’s a match-up that still squishes in a fair few narratives.

If we talk of the prevalence of the ruck in the modern game, it is clear that Ireland are the kings of keeping tempo high across their attacking rucks. As analyst Ross Hamilton points out, in Ireland’s 89 attacking rucks against England last week, they had an average ruck speed of 2.84s – with 79% of all their rucks under 3 seconds. 

Against Italy, however, Scotland had bang on the exact same number of attacking rucks as Italy (98) and 58% of those was below 3 seconds.

Scotland can strike like vipers, but only France have kicked the ball further that them this tournament. It’s clear they are happy to wait for the right time to spring forth. Yet what has been apparent at points this tournament is that the Scots’ attack can get gummed up if the number of phases climb.

Ireland, however, are a team increasingly happy to keep the ball alive and it will be interesting to see how the Scots defence can cope should it click. Ireland’s fluency were disrupted for large swathes against England as offloads came to nothing but they are still more than capable of creating breakdown after breakdown, but super quick ones. take a look at Jack Conan’s try last week. There were 13 phases strung together, with all but two of their 15 getting touches on the ball

Six Nations Ireland v Scotland Preview

Conductor Johnny Sexton takes it all in (Getty Images)

Of course, the biggest talking point for Scotland is that playmaking fly-half Finn Russell has dropped to the bench for Edinburgh full-back-turned-ten Blair Kinghorn. There have been some faces pulled up North, that’s for sure…

It’s clearly a gamble from under-pressure Gregor Townsend. But it is reward for a fine Edinburgh season, while Russell’s form for Scotland has not always sparkled this year. 

Interestingly, in our recent feature on measuring pressure on playmakers it was pointed out by Benetton defence coach Paul Gustard that Leinster and Edinburgh both have exceptionally high numbers of rucks (and therefor touches of the ball by their half-backs) this season. Kinghorn is used to his team racking up rucks – but this Scotland team are yet to click there. 

With this tournament well and truly done for Scotland, this one is all about showing they can perform in Dublin, while seeing if Kinghorn has what it takes at this level to control a game. And none of us know the answer yet. 

If Ireland are to give themselves a chance to end on a roaring high though, their scrum will have to charm match referee Wayne Barnes. Last week they were penalised heavily against England. Seven days in the spin cycle of Six Nations discourse and both former refs and the Ireland camp now say they know they should have got more change out of the officials a week ago, though. 

Of course, Ireland were still able to win against 14-man England anyway. And it’s a do-over, at home, with a glimmer of a chance at a title. And they have played some sublime stuff this season. 

Scotland are banking on their great question marks stumping Ireland enough times for a snatch and grab. Otherwise, it will have been another half step back for a Team team that is still to realise the potential we hear so much about. 

UPDATE: It has also just come out via BBC Scotland that six Scotland players disciplined for breaching team protocols after their win over Italy last week, after going out in Edinburgh when they arrived home. Captain Stuart Hogg, Finn Russell, Ali Price, Darcy Graham, Sam Johnson and Sione Tuipulotu were the six.

Blair Kinghorn

Blair Kinghorn for Edinburgh (Getty Images)

What’s the big team news?

Andy Farrell has made three changes to his starting XV. The team need to secure a win over Gregor Townsend’s men to be in with a shot of winning the trophy.

Wing Mack Hansen returns to the back-line, Iain Henderson replaces James Ryan (concussion) in the second row and Jack Conan comes into the back row.

He starts at No 8 with Caelan Doris moving to blindside flanker and Peter O’Mahony dropping to the bench.

Gregor Townsend has made two changes, with the biggie being that Finn Russell is dropped to the bench, with Blair Kinghorn picked to start at fly-half in Dublin. Ali Price will partner him at half-back with Darcy Graham and Kyle Steyn on the wings.

In the forwards, Jonny Gray is back from injury and gets the nod ahead of Sam Skinner in the second row.

On the bench, Ben White returns to the match-day 23 after being left out of Scotland’s match against Italy last Saturday.

Gregor Twosend

Is there pressure on Gregor Townsend? (Getty Images)

What’s being said in the camps?

Ireland captain Johnny Sexton said: “We definitely won’t be underestimating them. We know some of the big results that they’ve had over the last couple of years is away from home.

“They hadn’t a good record away from home and then in the last couple of years they’ve beaten France, they’ve beaten England. Wales as well. They’ve had some big scalps away from home.”

On selecting Blair Kinghorn, Scotland boss Gregor Townsend said: “I’d prefer to focus on what Blair has done and how well he’s played and how he’s deserved his opportunity, which he certainly has with his performances throughout the season.

“We see this as an opportunity for Blair. He’s been in really good form. He wasn’t available for our match (in Rome) last week (due to personal reasons) but the week before that he played his best game of the season against Connacht.”

Any interesting statistics?

  • The Centenary Quaich, presented to the winner of this match-up, was first presented in 1989 
  • If Scotland win on Saturday, they tie Ireland for the number of overall wins between the two since 1877 (67)
  • A draw is valued by the bookies at 50/1
  • Ireland are going for their seventh successive win over Scotland
  • Only once in 62 Tests has Finn Russell started on the bench – against Georgia
  • According to Opta, Grant Gilchrist has made three ‘dominant tackles’ this Six Nations – making him the only player set to feature in this match who is in the Top 10 for the stat. 
  • Kiwi coach Colin Cooper recently told the Irish times that Jamison Gibson-Park could run a Bronco test to the exceptional level of 20.2 
  • 2018 was the last time Ireland won a Triple Crown against their Home Nations rivals

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

Ireland vs Scotland, Saturday 19 March, Aviva Stadium.

The match kicks off at 4.45pm and will be shown on ITV in the UK and in Ireland on Virgin Media One. You can listen to coverage on BBC Radio Scotland and on RTÉ Radio 1.

Referee Wayne Barnes heads up an all-English officials panel, with Karl Dickson and Christophe Ridley assisting, and Stuart Terheege the TMO.

What are the line-ups?

Ireland: Hugo Keenan; Mack Hansen, Garry Ringrose, Bundee Aki, James Lowe; Johnny Sexton (captain), Jamison Gibson Park; Cian Healy, Dan Sheehan, Tadhg Furlong, Tadhg Beirne, Iain Henderson, Caelan Doris, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan.

Replacements: Rob Herring, Dave Kilcoyne, Finlay Bealham, Kieran Treadwell, Peter O’Mahony, Conor Murray, Joey Carbery, Robbie Henshaw.

Scotland: Stuart Hogg (captain); Darcy Graham, Chris Harris, Sam Johnson, Kyle Steyn; Blair Kinghorn, Ali Price; Pierre Schoeman, George Turner, Zander Fagerson, Jonny Gray, Grant Gilchrist, Rory Darge, Hamish Watson, Matt Fagerson.

Replacements: Fraser Brown, Allan Dell, WP Nel, Sam Skinner, Josh Bayliss, Ben White, Finn Russell, Mark Bennett.

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