Ireland v Scotland: Match Preview Pt I

KO 2.15 at the Aviva Stadium
Saturday 10th March 2018

Live on ITV

Scotland’s recent sequence of six consecutive 6 Nations successes in Edinburgh have lead them to one of the longest home winning streaks in their history. Only once before in the 5/6 Nations (between 1972 and 1975) have the national side bettered that run at Murrayfield.

Triumphs away from home have been much rarer though with just 6 wins in 46 attempts since the tournament expanded to include Italy back in 2000. Dublin was the scene of one of those elusive victories, but even that was 8 years ago.

Scotland’s most recent away wins against the other members of the 6 Nations:

Italy 27th February 2016
Ireland 20th March 2010
Wales 6th February 2002
France 10th April 1999
England 5th March 1983 (!)

  • John Barclay is the only man in Saturday’s team who was part of the 2010 win in Ireland. Richie Gray and Scott Lawson also played that day but haven’t made the cut this time around. Ross Ford and Johnnie Beattie are the only other members of the victorious 23 who have not yet retired.
  • Younger fans may not be aware but Dublin used to be a very happy hunting ground for Scotland. From 1984 until 2000 the dark blues only lost once at Landsdowne Road.
  • Five out of eight of Scotland’s 6 Nations’ defeats in Dublin have been by a margin of more than 20 points.
  • Between 2002 and 2014 Scotland only scored 5 tries in 7 trips to Ireland. Last time round they notched 3 tries (in defeat admittedly but, you know, baby steps…)

Ireland Scouting Report

Lineout

In Devin Toner and Peter O’Mahony, Ireland can call on a couple of very canny lineout operators. They’ve had a glut of throw-ins to work with – 39 in all which is the most in the tournament – and have only lost 3 of them. On the defensive side of things they’ve stolen 4 of their opponents’ 21 throws. In fact, Ireland’s opposition have had the fewest lineouts in the tournament as Joe Schmidt’s men have prioritised possession and keeping the ball in play with contestable kicks.

After a big Autumn for the lineout, Scotland have struggle a bit with this facet of their play. Only Italy has a lower success rate than Scotland’s 84% on their own ball. The Scots have also only managed to steal 1 opposition throw so far. There will need to be a step up in quality on Saturday to compete with the Irish setpiece.

Discipline

Ireland’s discipline has contributed to some of their biggest victories (for example just 4 penalties conceded in their win over New Zealand in Chicago). At times it’s almost inhuman and they’ve maintained that level in the current 6 Nations, conceding the fewest pens (13).

This is another area that Scotland will look to test their hosts, with the dark blues having won the most penalties in this year’s tournament (33). Overall these are the 2 sides that have had the most success with referees so far – the differentials between penalties won and conceded in this year’s championship are:

Ireland +17
Scotland +8
Wales +4
France +2
England -11
Italy -20

Efficiency over the ball

Ireland’s work at the breakdown has been exemplary in this tournament. They have only lost 7 out of 412 rucks with their 98.3% success rate being the best in the 6 Nations. The Irish are also taking the ball into contact far more than any other team as they try to overpower their opposition.

Scotland will look to counter in their own style though and are currently the best in show at disrupting the breakdown. 20 turnovers for the Scots mean a tournament low 93.2% return for their opponents.

Attack

With ball in hand that narrow ruck to ruck to ruck game means a lot of hard graft for the Irish pack. They average just 2.7 metres per carry (the lowest in the championship) from 527 carries (the highest in the tournament). The focus will be on hammering the ball up through endless phases of recycling in a way that Scotland hasn’t faced yet in this season’s 6 Nations. Ireland will keep their width through the threat of the little and large wing pairing of Keith Earls and Jacob Stockdale combined with Jonny Sexton’s pinpoint cross-kicks.

One of the most pressing issues for the visitors is that it won’t be enough just to make their tackles – they’ll have to stop Ireland winning the gainline battle incrementally, dominating possession and field position while putting themselves in position to pick up points.

CJ Stander

The key man in this ground and pound gameplan is CJ Stander. His colossal appetite for work in attack has seen him make 58 carries already in this tournament, averaging 23 runs per 80 minutes. He will get the ball in his hands a lot. Everyone knows it’s coming – but stopping it is an entirely different story. The workhorses of the Scottish pack will have to be at their very best as part of a structured, collective effort to contain the Munster number 8.

Conor Murray

The other essential figure for the Joe Schmidt style is Conor Murray. The scrum half got 30 minutes off once the Italy game was won but played the full 80 against both France and Wales. He’s thrown 337 passes in those games, meaning he’s probably firing one out once every 15 seconds or so on average when the ball is in play and Ireland have possession. The Munsterman is a key decision-maker, controlling his forwards and dictating when to change the tempo or try and move upfield with a contestable box kick. If he dominates his personal duel with Greig Laidlaw it will be significantly harder for Scotland to win the game.

Previous results

This will be the 10th time the two sides have met in Dublin for a 6 Nations match. The head to head looks like this from Scotland’s perspective:

L L   L L W   L L L

Most recent meeting in Dublin:

Ireland 35 – 25 Scotland

Significant stat
Ireland – 32 kicks (Scotland – 26)
There was plenty of kicking in the match. Both in terms of quality and quantity Ireland were well ahead. In the first half they used their kicking game to control the territorial contest. Scotland’s failure to deal with the Irish kicks in the opening period (Stuart Hogg’s coruscating try apart) contributed to the home side also dominating possession. 3 times Scots knocked on up-and-unders to immediately hand the ball back. This was topped off by Hogg and Tommy Seymour taking each other out when trying to deal with a chip through and allowing Keith Earls in untouched for a crucial try.

By contrast Scotland’s tactical kicking was pretty poor throughout that first 40 minutes. Including restarts they put up 15 kicks. 13 were not contestable, returning possession to Ireland with no real pressure applied. The 2 remaining kicks were challenged for but lost, one of them as the result of yet another knock on. With the weather forecast looking grim for Saturday winning the kicking battle could be a massive factor in taking control of the game.

Officials

Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant 1: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant 2: Luke Pearce (England)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)

As can be seen below Scotland have lost the penalty count in every one of their last 5 games with Wayne Barnes as the referee. Even extending that back to 2011 there is just a single match (out of 8) where the Scots have ended up in front on the crime count. It hasn’t stopped them pulling off good wins against Australia, Argentina and (slightly fortuitously) Saturday’s opponents, Ireland though – but it always makes things harder.

Gregor Townsend and his coaches will no doubt have taken a look back at lessons to be learned from the 5 yellow cards Scotland have suffered at the hands of Mr. Barnes in the most recent 4 games. Two Scottish sin bins were a significant factor the last time these sides met in Dublin and Toony’s men simply cannot afford to spend time short-handed against a clinical team like Ireland.

  • 2012 – lost to France (A)
    Pens: 20 (For 8 – 12 Against)
    Cards: none
  • 2013 – beat Ireland (H)
    Penalties: 29 (For 13 – 16 Against)
    Cards: Scotland 1 YC (Ryan Grant)
  • 2014 – beat Argentina (H)
    Penalties: 28 (For 13 – 15 Against)
    Cards: Scotland 2 YCs (Rob Harley, Jim Hamilton); Argentina 1 YC
  • 2015 – lost to France (A)
    Pens: 26 (For 10 – 16 Against)
    Cards: Scotland 1 YC (David Denton)
  • 2017 – beat Australia (A)
    Pens: 23 (For 8 – 15 Against)
    Cards: Scotland 1 YC (Ryan Wilson); Australia 1 YC

The Scotland Team

Here is the team Gregor Townsend has announced to face Ireland in Dublin, with just one change to the starting XV as Tommy Seymour hasn’t trained all week and a couple on the bench:

Scotland: Stuart Hogg, Blair Kinghorn, Huw Jones, Pete Horne, Sean Maitland, Finn Russell, Greig Laidlaw; Gordon Reid, Stuart McInally, Simon Berghan, Grant Gilchrist, Jonny Gray, John Barclay (capt), Hamish Watson, Ryan Wilson.
Replacements: Fraser Brown, Jamie Bhatti, Willem Nel, Tim Swinson, David Denton, Ali Price, Nick Grigg, Lee Jones.

Ireland: Kearney; Earls, Ringrose, Aki, Stockdale; Sexton, Murray; Healy, Best (capt), Furlong; Ryan, Toner; O’Mahony, Leavy, Stander.
Replacements: Cronin, McGrath, Porter, Henderson, Murphy, Marmion, Carbery, Larmour.

Part II of the preview will follow on Friday once both teams are announced.

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When he's not watching Glasgow, Scotland (and even Edinburgh) Kevin can usually be found with his head in a spreadsheet working out the most obscure Scottish rugby related stat he can put out on Twitter.
Follow Kevin on twitter @topofthemoonGW

113 comments on “Ireland v Scotland: Match Preview Pt I

  1. Andrew McGavin on

    Kinghorn starting in place of injured Seymour in otherwise unchanged XV.

    Fraser Brown and Lee Jones on the bench.

    • Tryhard on

      Classic Toonie.

      I like Kinghorn a lot but a first start out of position in Dublin in the rain is tough. Good luck to him but expect Murray/Sexton to heavily target him with boxkicks

      Great to have Brown back

      • BigAl on

        He’s a really tall full back so you kind of hope they do adopt that tactic as he should be really good at winning more than his fair share of ball in the air.

      • NADP on

        He’s not as good under the high ball as you’d think but I wouldn’t be overly concerned about them targeting him with kicks

    • FF on

      I’m kind of thrilled and worried that Kinghorn is starting.

      It is a hell of a lot of pressure and Ireland’s kicking game is superb…but, he is so exciting on the ball and Seymour hasn’t been at his attacking best.

      Looks like Ireland will welcome back Furlong and Henderson so we’re going to need the performance of a lifetime from our pack to win this game.

      • RuggersB on

        Furlong and Henderson played when we beat them at Murrayfield.
        We have improved since then too.

        Kinghorn is a cracking player…..inexperienced yes…something different for Ireland to worry about down that wing though.

  2. greengumbo on

    I have been happy with Berghan last few games but really hoped Nel would start for this arm wrestle in the mud.

    Kinghorn is in for a busy day.

  3. Andrew McGavin on

    Thanks for another great article.

    The kicking game and scrum half control do seem to be critical. It’s important to discomfit Conor Murray somehow.

    I would also like to see ball-in-play statistics for matches between the two sides. Gatland’s observation was really interesting that Wales won matches where the ball was in play for 44+ minutes and Ireland where the ball was in play for less than 37. Mike Blair said in an interview that he had picked up on that.

    It’s a fascinating statistic because we usually think of Ireland keeping the ball in play with multiple intense phases. I’m sure the Irish are extremely fit, but does it suggest that their style is so demanding that they can’t sustain it fitness-wise if the ball is in play for longer? Does it also partly explain why Scotland were the stronger side in the final 15 at Murrayfield last year? It would be great if these questions could be addressed in Part 2 of the article.

    • Kevin Millar on

      I’d love to do something on ball in play time but unfortunately it’s not a stat that’s published for us normal punters to see!

  4. The Chiel on

    Same old Toonie – ultra conservative and never gives kids a chance ! :)

    Bit surprised to see Kinghorn start, but let’s see how he goes under what everybody is expecting to be a barrage of kicks. Other than that, comfortable with the team.

    Lots of calls for Nel, but he really hasn’t played any rugby to speak of for a very long time. Fingers crossed he’s not needed early because of injury ( or Bottler Barnes ).

  5. BigAl on

    I’m kind of expecting Ireland not to box kick so much this weekend. I think they’ll have watched the video of Hogg from a couple of years ago and know what can happen. Hogg is usually right on form against the Irish. They’ve seen Kinghorn in the Pro14 too so now they know we’ve got two guys that given an inch will run it back right at them from anywhere. Lets hope that Kinghorn has developed the kind of telepathy that Seymour has had with Hogg.

    I also think that Ireland think they have the advantage in the forwards and they will just try and repeatedly truck it up the middle with the big boys, especially if its wet, looking for penalties. We probably need to try and dislodge the ball more often in the tackle and look to counter attack of it.

    • Weary Warrior on

      Maitland isn’t too shabby under the high ball, either. Interesting to see how often Murray puts it in the air – it’s a core part of his game.

    • RuggersB on

      Causing Murray to think twice about kicking will be a big plus for Scotland.
      Thats the core of their game, based on their traditional hoofball, I mean gaelic football. Not impressive to watch but effective.
      Will be interesting to see what their plan B is if hoofball fails….as you say…probably to continually police the ball 3-4 meters and then fall over the try line.

  6. BigAl on

    Has anyone asked Toonie why he’s naming the team a day before the competition? I guess he must think he gets some kind of advantage from doing so. Maybe it settles our boys down. I guess he’s setting the agenda for the next day and we know the Irish will be replaying the Kinghorn highlights reel and deleting the Seymour one.

    • Blake Westwood on

      You do gain a huge advantage naming your side first. It gives your players an assured feeling that their coach backs you without having take too long to decide who starts and naming your team before the opposition can often unsettle the opposition by the knowledge that they are facing a settled side.

      Yes the team naming 2nd have a chance to decide to select players to put opposition players but this rarely works – in my opinion picking your best players is normally the best way to go and not just selecting players to target certain players

  7. BigAl on

    Must have been some really tasty scrummaging sessions this week in training. We have some genuine talent and competition now in the front five. That’s got to be good for our youngsters and should collectively up the standard in the forwards for the years ahead.

  8. Stu on

    Swinson was back in the squad after 60mins the previous weekend – R Gray managed 80 but doesn’t make the squad – poor decision from Toonie.

    Glad he’s gone with Kinghorn – Sexton will pepper him with kicks, but he’s got the talent and bravery to deal with it – he’ll be opposite that wee gnaff Earls, who will almost certainly try and but the wind up him. How he deals with that will be key.

    • Andrew McGavin on

      Won’t he be opposite Stockdale? He’s our 14 and Stockdale’s their 11.

      I’m hoping he’ll be able to exploit any defensive uncertainty from Stockdale and any lack of clarity/communication between Stockdale and Ringrose (yet another new centre partnership for Ireland).

  9. Rob on

    Glad to see Nick Grigg keep his place on the bench,just feel he could be the match winner here if given 15 minutes in last quarter,can see him wriggling out of an tackle and offloading to one of our speedsters to clinch the match, hopefully. That is if we are still in the game come that period

    • Not rocket science on

      Trusting in GT, but this is surely the most Tombolaish selection possible – not a player changed when everyone must be thinking the team could have been strengthened!

      Dunbar & Gray and possibly Marfo & Bennett could be on the bench. That’s at least 3 potential world class players making way for Swinson, Grigg and Bhatti. Not to mention Hardie.

      I can accept that Bhatti has stepped up to the plate and that alongside Nel he may be solid enough and dynamic in loose.

      But Dunbar has to be injured. He’s the leader of our defence, cuts angles like Huw Jones and is an openside over the ball. I seem to remember he was doing well enough against Samoa and NZ before anyone spouts rubbish about bad games.

      I like Swinson, but really over Gray.

      Can’t help but feel the Irish at home are going to run all day at Laidlaw, Russell, Grigg (unlike the English who couldn’t recycle the ball quickly enough). If so, and it looks like we should be shoring things up, we’re going to have Bhatti, Swinson, Grigg to bring on instead of Marfo, Gray, Dunbar!!!

      Have we possibly not learned anything from recent years against Leinster, Munster and even Connacht.

      Real danger we get blown off the pitch here. You can’t can’t get it wide to danger players if we’re spending 90% of the game trying to make tackles in the middle.

      I hope I’m wrong. Suspect Joe Schmidt is licking his lips.

      P.S. Excited to see Kinghorn start.

      • RuggersB on

        Yeah all things being equal GT could have played all the returning players..however that doesn’t send a good message to a team that has performed really well the last few matches.
        Nobody deserved to be dropped from the last match.
        We don’t know where their fitness is…the Scotland coaches do.

      • Martin on

        Don’t think Dunbar’s been the same player for about 18 months now- been caught out defensively a few times and seems to have lost a yard of pace . I know he still brings some excellent attributes to the table and hasn’t played badly , but I think Horne offers a bit more at this stage and as a second playmaker will execute more to plan I think. I’d have liked to have seen big Richie, but Toonie has watched the players this week and if he has gone for Swinson on the bench you can only assume its because he thinks he will best fit the plan – we should have no issue with that and be grateful that our depth creates a genuine meritocracy and performance for the players is no longer just about the result but also to play.

      • 1.8T on

        It’s the whole form / reputation thing. The players he has selected have been playing well in the last couple of games. Less risky IMO than taking guys back in from injury that haven’t been in the squad. It also sends a message in the team that you can’t walk straight back in, you have to get there on merit.

      • Not rocket science on

        All very fair points. Without seeing training or med reports, on bench I’d have still had Dunbar for Grigg, Gray for Swinson and probably Marfo for Bhatti. But hope those chosen all have blinders!

      • Blake Westwood on

        For me world class means one of the best 4 or 5 players in your position in the world not just being a really good player. I like Marfo, Dunbar, Richie and Bennett but the only player out of them to get anywhere close to being regarded as World class is Richie Gray. Just feel it is a completely overused word these days

      • Not rocket science on

        Bennett – awarded ‘world’ young player of the year, almost turned the Oz game WC15. Dunbar – touted Lion by Will Greenwood and others. RG – self evident. That’s 3 potential world class. I think world class is that you’d be pushing for a spot in any team in the world. Those three players, on form, would be.

      • Jonny Mac on

        This is just daft. R. Gray is so overrated, and would much rather bring on Swinson to a game like this. I feel Gray is just about finished in a Scotland shirt. To declare marfo world class is a bit far fetched, he played reasonably well in the Autumn but Bhatti desrves his place. Also have you watched any Glasgow games over the last month, Grigg is playing the best rugby of his career. Dunbar will struggle to get back in the Glasgow starting line up after six nation’s. Toonie has picked on form instead of History which is all Dunbar and Gray have going for them atm.

  10. Blake Westwood on

    Great to see Blair Kinghorn making his debut – could definitely see him permanently taking either Maitland’s or Seymour’s place in the side by the autumn. Already has 8 tries this season and has beaten the most defenders and gained the most metres in the pro 14 – such a talent. A back 3 of Hogg, Kinghorn and the talented Darcy Graham could be frightening in the near future

  11. Blake Westwood on

    Gilchrist is deserving of his starting place but Richie Gray played 80 minutes for his club on Saturday and should surely be on the bench instead of Swinson.

    • Alanyst on

      Gray vs Swinson … I can see the logic of swinson on three fronts:

      1 – Not changing the team more than needed

      2 – R. Gray played 80 minutes last week on his first game back…may be a bit stuffed

      3 – Swinson and Denton can come on to compete more physically with the Irish back row, once Mr. Barnes has made it clear that he doesn’t like people competing for the ball directly….

  12. Pio on

    One of the best pieces of news is that Fraser Brown is back. Now Rambo can play all out for an hour rather than have to hold back to last the full match.

    • Blake Westwood on

      Whilst a large part of why McInally has played the full 80 in the last 2 matches and the first 70 against Wales is down to the mediocrity of Lawson but lets not forget McInally is incredibly fit for a rugby player never mind for a hooker.

      Whether it was securing possession from the scrum, winning ball at the breakdown, taking down England attackers or gaining vital metres McInally’s performance never lowered in any area and was phenomenal and ever present for the entire match.

      I don’t know what game you watched but from my viewing he was at his best for the whole game and never looked like he was holding back.

      I like Fraser Brown but if McInally keeps up his form and his incredible levels of fitness I have no qualms about him playing the full 80 minutes in many matches for Scotland.

  13. RuggersB on

    Good and fair selection by GT. Its not like he ignored any possibles from the returning experienced players….they were in camp.
    This is a team sport…dropping players based on the reputation and/or experience of others…can be damaging to a squad I think.
    Gray…played 80 mins last week …in how long? Swinson… not his biggest fan…but he is playing better now than I have seen in past…and has more grit and rugby ‘streets’ than the athletic volleyball guy.
    Dunbar…never fit…spends more time in rehab than on the pitch..and hasn’t played really well for what seems like an eternity. Both Horne and Grigg playing regularly and playing really well. Grigg could be a real problem for Ireland when he comes on.
    Not sure about Brown….yes very good player…but should he even still be playing if there are doubts about his health? ..again.. coaches must think he is ready.
    Having a player of the quality of Nel come off the bench…and who looked good when he played last match…will make Ireland a bit less comfortable at scrum time. Wet conditions might make it tough for Berghan at scrum time…but if he continues in form he has shown..Ireland should be more worried than us.

    • Billy greenhorn on

      Dunbar was outstanding in the all blacks game firmly had sonny bill in his back pocket but has hardly played since so could understand why he isn’t in squad I am not Pete Horne biggest fan but been pleasantly surprised by him in last few games he deserves his place in team.

  14. Neil on

    Im not to disapointed with the side. Hard to drop people after last week (except lawson).
    I would of had R.Gray on bench although swinson brings alot of graft.
    Would love to see George Horne on but this is not the game to make ur debut i suppose.
    Grigg im worried if he comes on early due to injury but am happy for a late impact role he prob edges dunbar and bennet in that sence for 20 minutes.
    L.Jones … i guess their is not alot of other options atm and he wont let people down, not excactly scary to the opposition though.

  15. Frazer on

    I have no issues at all regarding the team selection. Kinghorn was on the bench so is “1st cab off the rank” for Seymour, besides he’s been in great form and if he gets a bit of space he will scare the Irish.

    Brown in for Lawson was always going to happen as Lawson was only ever there to occupy a bench place in case of injury, whereas a fully fit Brown would be in the mix to start at hooker. As for the rest of the returning players, yes a match fit Gray is better than Swinson, Marfo is better than Reid, and Hardie may be worthy of a bench spot, but none of the players in the 23 from the England game did anything to deserve being dropped, and to make wholesale changes for players only just returning from injury would have been the wrong signal to send.

    If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

    • Martin on

      Not saying your wrong but I don’t know how we can conclude that Marfo is better than Reid. Performing well in the Autumn in games with traditionally less scrums and less emphasis on scrums is different to playing in the six nations cauldron. Not sure Hardie can be on the bench as an injury to Wilson would significantly limit our go forward and lineout if Hardie were to come on. I think Denton is the spot on bench choice here

      • Blake Westwood on

        “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

        Probably my most hated expression of all time. You should always be looking to improve and become better. Would love it if we heard more of our fans being a bit positive and saying “there’s always room for improvement”. If you don’t think that Richie Gray and Dunbar would not massively improve our bench over Grigg and Swinson then you don’t know rugby.

        We must never rest on our laurels and should always be looking to improve are team and squad and unless we are ranked number 1 in the world whilst being reigning world cup and six nations champions none of our fans, players or coaches should ever use the despicable word of ” if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

        We have the players and coaches to compete so why do some still accept mediocrity

  16. Big Al on

    I’m looking ahead to the Italy game. If we beat Ireland it will be all out attack to get the bonus point. If we don’t beat Ireland then I think Toonie will have an easy argument to spin the tombola. Not sure we can do what Gatland has just done with 10 changes but I think there could be quite a few swaps. Also slightly nervous that we could repeat last summer where we beat Australia then lost to Fiji if we are overly confident in the last game.

    • Finn Andrews on

      If we lose against Ireland I would roll the tombola against Italy, could look something like this :

      1.Jamie Bhatti
      2.Fraser Brown
      3.Simon Berghan
      4.Richie Gray
      5.Jonny Gray
      6.John Barclay (C)
      7.John Hardie
      8.Magnus Bradbury
      9.George Horne
      10.Pete Horne
      11.Lee Jones
      12.Nick Grigg
      13.Chris Harris
      14.Byron McGuigan
      15.Blair Kinghorn

      16.Scott Lawson
      17.Gordon Reid
      18.Zander Fagerson
      19.Ben Toolis
      20.Luke Hamilton
      21.Ali Price
      22.Finn Russell
      23.Stuart Hogg

      • Tryhard on

        Excluding Peter Horne, that backline has a total of 15 caps between them. Absolute madness to chuck them in to a six nations game away from home.

        Would like to see some changes if we lose to Ireland though. It would mainly be bringing back players like Richie, Hardie and Bennett though. Crazy to switch the team out completely

      • Blake Westwood on

        Finn If we lose to Ireland then of course we should use Italy as a chance to look to the future but making wholesale changes is just ridiculous.

        Yes you want to give some players who could play a vital role for us at the world-cup experience at this level but you want to bring into a settled side if you want them to play to their potential. If you put in a full-team of players who have never played together who have little international experience is only going to lead to defeat.

        The best cause of action is to look at the 3 or 4 players outside of your best starting line-up which are most likely to benefit us in the near future. I would argue that would be Kinghorn, George Horne and Bradburry. I would also argue we Reid brings to the table – i.e he is a decent scrummager who doesn’t give away to many penalties but doesn’t make enough tackles or gain enough meter- so would argue giving Bhatti and Marfo some game time would also be beneficial for our future.

        I also feel it is important not to disrespect players who have put in strong performances for us and drop them for far lesser players when everyone wants to play – we need to building a good team environment- and dropping McInally for a 36 year old who is our 5th choice hooker when everyone is fit is just ridiculous.

        Taking all that into account if we are defeated by Ireland this would be my 23 for Ireland.

        1. Bhatti
        2. McInally
        3. Berghan
        4. Gilchrist
        5. Jonny Gray
        6. Barclay
        7. Watson
        8. Wilson
        9. Price
        10. Russell
        11. Maitland
        12. Peter Horne
        13. Huw Jones
        14. Kinghorn
        15. Hogg

        16. Brown
        17. Marfo
        18. Fagerson
        19. Richie Gray
        20. Bradburry
        21. George Horne
        22. Laidlaw (could cover come on at 10 as injuries at the WC could force us to play him at 10 with our lack of decent fly-half cover)
        23. Grigg

        If we are in a good position then we can bring on all our replacements early in the 2nd half and give them the chance to shine

      • Blake Westwood on

        Finn Andrews I touched on it in my longer comment but what the heck is your thinking behind dropping McInally out of the 23 for 36 year-old Scott Lawson who is our 5th choice hooker when everyone is fit.

        McInally has been one of our best performers over the past 6 months and proves he has all the skills to be a top top international hooker so why drop the future for a mediocre 36 year old

      • Father Dougal on

        Blake : Now I know you are fond of telling us how misguided we all are , but isnt naming your 23 for the Ireland match after we have already selected our team for that game a bit too unbelievable. Is there a return leg ?

  17. JohnMc on

    Can’t see why we would want to make too many changes up front after out-muscling France and out-playing England in pretty much all departments. Excellent to see Brown back on the bench and Nel again too.

    Looking at the forecast, also not so sure it will be played on the swamp that some are fearing.

    Whatever the conditions, I simply cannot see Ireland trying on the fancy-dan stuff on Saturday. They are so relentlessly focused on a potential Slam that they will rely on their narrow kicking and trucking game to try to stifle and overrun us. Can’t blame them really – that’s what they’re good at.

    One thing they will be focusing on for sure is minimising the front foot possession, or indeed any possession, for our lethal back line. By fair means or, er, Irish rugby means.

    Kinghorn selection a bit risky – what a match to get your first start in – but the lad’s got serious pace and if he deals well with the inevitable Murray and Sexton bombs, then it will be time for Ireland to think about their own Plan B.

    I retired from the result prediction business after the Wales defeat, so all I’ll say for now is this is a Test we are entirely capable of winning.

      • JohnMc on

        Blake, as someone else said recently on another thread, you say some good things on here but you don’t exactly endear yourself to fellow bloggers, do you?

        Does keeping more or less the same 23 after two good wins imply that none of us is looking for improvement?

        It’s possible to continue to improve , and at times you’ve got a better chance to improve, if there is continuity in selection on the back of good performances.

        Dunbar and R Gray are fine players. If the coaching team deem both unfit at this point to be in the 15/23, then I’ll go with their knowledge of rugby rather than yours.

      • Frazer on

        I’ve been following rugby since 1984 so I would consider myself to know rugby quite well, but I do love a refreshing bit of patronising of an evening.

        There is no way that Dunbar is a step up from Grigg. Dunbar has spent most of the last 6 months either injured or just back from injury, plus he was out of form before he got injured last time. Grigg is in excellent form and would feel very hard done to if he were to be dropped.

        Regarding Richie Gray, yes he is better than Swinson, but we don’t see how they are performing in training, and I’m not so arrogant to think that I know better than Gregor Townsend and his coaches.

        For what it’s worth I would have picked Richie on the bench, but other than that I think the 23 is exactly as I’d have chosen.

      • Big Al on

        Based on all accounts Toonie is loading this team with new plays. The premise is if you don’t learn them then you don’t play. It could be that the likes of Gray and Dunbar haven’t got them ingrained because they’ve been injured or away from the squad. Certainly Gray being away playing in France last weekend wont have helped him to learn the new lineout calls.

      • Dont take the Bait on

        They are improving their side by playing them again. This principle is called building on success.

      • BorderBadger on

        Blake, I’ve tried really hard not to say anything when you have overtly criticised fellow posters. However I think it’s worth pointing something out to you this time.

        As a student of results oriented team dynamics (I do this professionally) I was a little confused by your assertion that the coaches might be sitting on their laurels because they “should always be looking to improve our starting 15”.

        I don’t think Toony and Co will be focussed at all on something as simplistic as improving the starting 15. They are more likely focussed on improving Scotland’s performance with the key output being win ratio. I for one am happy to accept on that basis that they probably “know rugby” far better than I do!

  18. Frazer on

    As an aside, I wonder how many times in the last 10 years that any side, let alone Scotland, have been able to put out a XV in 3 consecutive matches with only 1 change. Considering how badly we’ve been affected by injuries in previous years this is very impressive and I think is testament to the fitness of the players.

    • Big Al on

      Remember Geech saying continuity was a key factor in the success of the 1990 team. Same players started all 4 games. There’s a lot to be said for continuity, familiarity and building momentum.

      • Referendum on

        Very good point and after ever one predicting that after so many injuries across so many teams before kicking a ball I think most teams have fit more back than lost and how many have teams lost through tournaments? Minimal i’d say.

  19. Scrummo on

    There is some mental stuff in these comments.

    Swinson has been picked because he’s a warrior. He will hit rucks, thump people back in the tackle, carry hard in the tight and when the game is tight in the last twenty minutes he will not take a backwards step and will be the first to front up to the Irish. A fit R.Gray might be our best lock but can he fill that role from the bench? Not in my opinion as it’s not his game.

    Marfo world class? For Christ sake, yes he had three very good games in the Autumn but he hadn’t even impressed for Edinburgh before that and hasn’t even played since those games! He might well go on to be a top player for us but Bhatti has been quality all season.

    • Frazer on

      I think it’s great that we can even have this discussion, given the state we were in in the not too distant past. Reid has done an admirable job, as has Berghan. But having Marfo and Bhatti available at LH and Nel and Fagerson at TH is a fantastic position to be in. I must admit I feel sorry for Sutherland and Dell, both of whom are very good props but due to injury find themselves well down the pecking order.

      One thing is for sure, if every Scotland player selected in the last 2 years was available, you’d have a job and a half picking the best 23!

    • TeamCam on

      Richie Gray was instigator-in-chief in Dublin last time. I’d rather he played – Swinson can be really good off the bench, but often isn’t.

  20. Ewan on

    To be honest have no idea how Toolis is not in the team. Much better player than Swinson who did nothing off the bench vs England and got belted every carry. Toolis is a quality player definitely our biggest threat in the lineout and seems to be completely out of favour after one average performance against Wales(where everyone played poorly), he got benched and responded with another good performance off the bench. Then somehow loses he spot completely. Extremely harsh if you ask me!

    • Martin on

      Might be harsh – but its how it should be. If you want to play for Scotland you need to maintain standards – because of increased depth there are players ready to step up in place. Granted other players played quite poorly as well in Wales (Barclay for me being prime example), but if this principle means that every player playing on Saturday is playing for the result and their shirt and they are only 1 or 2 poor performances away from being dropped, then I am happy with the actions Toonie takes and the environment this creates

    • Stuart on

      I think the verdict on Toolis after Cardiff is that he is soft.

      Swinson might not be the best ball carrier but he is a hell of a tackler and will slow down the Irish carriers.

  21. Phantom Stu on

    Definition of world-class – (of a person, thing, or activity) of or among the best in the world. (Oxford Dictionary). You are correct it is overused.

  22. Andrew McGavin on

    I just read that the Captain’s Run will be at Murrayfield and not Lansdowne Road on Friday.

    I felt ill-at-ease before the Cardiff match when I read that Scotland wouldn’t be training there because that was Vern’s tactic last year against the English at Twickenham. Just like at Twickenham, Scotland seemed overawed by the occasion at Cardiff. I don’t know if lack of familiarity with the surroundings played a big part in Scotland crumbling in both matches, but I would have thought taking time to see the stadium, getting used to its dimensions and pre-visualising the match would be helpful? I felt concerned when I read they were doing it again for this match.

    How much of a factor is this or not? What is GT’s rationale for this decision? Presumably, he thinks it was irrelevant to those two heavy losses.

    Does any contributor have experience of a big-match away stadium atmosphere and can shed light on this?

    • Merlot on

      As has been mentioned, Toonie has a few new tricks up his sleave and maybe wants to put the finishing touches to them behind closed doors – easier to do at Murrayfield than Lansdowne Road.
      That being said, I’m with you on the familiarisation theme. The longer these guys spend at Lansdowne Road the more comfortable they’ll be come kick off.

    • James on

      Nooooooo! It hasn’t really work for us before but perhaps third times the charm…

      Does anyone know if any other 6N team follows the same approach or do they all do the captain’s run at the match venue?

      • Sammy on

        I do not get the rationale either however we need to know more from other unions. How do we make it work is the key question.

    • RuggersB on

      Maybe GT is trying to get the players to believe its not so different to playing at Murrayfield.
      Maybe the extra day at home gives them the clarity on the match they need.
      I can see the benefits of both being there and not.
      Time will tell…

  23. Referendum on

    If results go as expected this weekend and next we could have 3wins and fourth again. It’s a bit ridiculous. Two years in a row is a bit memtal. It’s even possible to have 3 wins and be fifth.

    • Historic Banffshire on

      You are quite right, it would seem like a slim reward. Ultimately though 6N is extremely competitive and there really are no easy games. But even with the likely scenario as you describe we are in a much better place than practically any period since 1999.

    • FF on

      I’m not that bothered about where we finish if we don’t win.

      What’s more ridiculous is that we could win our remaining games and Ireland lose to us and England, and Ireland still win the championship on BPs with a W3 L2 record. That is totally daft.

      Obviously, we need to beat Ireland before worrying about permutations, probably more likely Ireland will have it all sewn up before the final round.

    • Doddie’s Trews on

      I think bonus points are not well suited to such a short championship. I see why they felt it wasn’t great to have the old system of points difference deciding things either. Personally I would have the number of wins, then head-to-head result be the deciding factor before bonus points,

      • Pastit2ndrow on

        We could always have the scenario where France beat England, Italy beat Wales and Scotland get gubbed, then next week we lose to Italy, Wales win and we finish bottom! There’s pessimism for you.

      • Feepole on

        I thought we were assured when bonus points came in that that couldn’t happen (I have a phobia of figures, so always avoid looking at permutations till last weekend) Would be travesty if that were to happen. Mind you, look at the average match scores now compared to 10 – 15 years ago. Maybe not the sole reason for more attacking play among NH teams, but must be a factor.

    • Referendum on

      The only reassurance was that if someone wins all five they get three extra points to avoid winning grand slam but losing championship with bonus points. Now that is crazy.

      • Stuart on

        It would make sense if bonus points were used a tie breaker rather than in the points total. I’d like to see places decided on these criteria.

        1. Wins
        2. Wins + Draws
        3. In a tie between two teams H2H
        4. Bonus points
        5. Points difference
        6. Tries

    • TeamCam on

      Weird that Wales will beat us having won against the 7th, 10th and 14th placed teams, whereas we may have beaten the 2nd, 10th and 14th placed teams… Not that I’m ruling out a win this weekend or assuming we’ll win in Rome, of course! Just running the scenario.

      • Referendum on

        It is also possible that we could have four wins. England and Ireland three each and we still lose the championship on points difference to Ireland which is unlikely but possible. That just shouldn’t be workable at all. With only playing three games in world cup groups bonus points don’t tally up to give such a warped view of things but can happen over a comp that has five matches each.

        A possible final table could be

        1. Ireland 16pts 3 wins
        2. Scotland 16pts 4 wins
        3. England 15pts 3 wins
        4. Wales 15pts 3 wins

      • Ginger McGhee on

        The table today/now shows we are in negative points difference. That feels wrong to be 3rd and sides in 4th and 5th have positive PD. Only Scotland and Italy are in the red. We have left it all to do in the toughest of the matches this year.If I were just reading the table and never knew of the Welsh meltdown, I would say we are not great at defending. Is that a realistic conclusion ? Our attack is better than our defence. It feels like we need to hit Ireland and put them behind their gain line to cause them to panic. Kick to us and we will attack. Am I in the right place with my thinking !

  24. Neil on

    The premier sports subscription for the pro14 next season is currently 10 pound per month, might need a sky box also although im unsure.

      • Feepole on

        Have they given indication of how many games they’ll show per round? Be a real shame if public can’t see either scottish team play some weekends, even if they’re willing to pay.

      • FF on

        Reports in Ireland that TG4 has agreed a deal to continue showing Friday night free to air games. Hopefully still
        Scope for similar deal elsewhere?

        If there is free to air in ireland and not in wales and Scotland the pro-14 board really need to look at themselves as they’ll have undermined the tournament unnecessarily.

  25. Archieb57 on

    Only 2 changes for the Irish with Ringrose & Furlong coming into the starting line-up (Henderson added to bench). Good looking team, no doubt. We know how they’re going to play (the Irish version of ‘Warrenball’, although they don’t get the same stick as Wales used to, as it’s winning rugby for them). Keep in the game & show our superior fitness in last quarter & get a result. Why not!

  26. James on

    Lots of talk about Ireland going route 1 and playing 10 man rugby. I’m slightly worried as we had similar chat before the Wales game and look how that turned out when wales spun the ball wide…

    • RuggersB on

      I think for the most part Ireland play a narrow style but of course that is to get them up the park and then they can go wide when they sniff the line. They have decent wingers.

      Scotland just collectively had a bad hair day vs Wales. They had the wrong attitude that day.

    • Tam on

      but can you see much of the ball being flung wide whilst the rain pelts down? Route one stuff from the Irish may be but the way in which we can turn ball over favours us. Ireland will surely apply more players to the breakdown to protect ball allowing us to spread boys wide and strengthen the defensive line. If we’re not getting ball its all about keeping clear heads and not get frustrated and giving away penalties where this one may well be decided ????

      • JohnMc on

        Interesting that the Met Office forecast for Dublin is indicating no rain there for days to come, including match day. What does that mean for us or Ireland? I don’t know!

  27. mrthistle on

    Scotland will win this by around 22 points, the irish look fatigued and i predict Hogg to have a standout game after a few quieter ones, he will score 2 tries and laidlaw will score 1

    • Neil on

      Love your confidence!

      I think more likely Ireland will grind out a victory. If Scotland do cause an upset it’ll be by 3-5 points.
      My final score would be 24-21 to Ireland

    • Referendum on

      The smart money is on a reasonably comfortable Irish win in a high scoring win with tries thrown in from both sides.

      However I think it could be anything really. Both teams have the ability now to give out a big hammering to top teams but this is far too hard to call. It could just end up anything. Even Scotland going down early doesn’t stop me believing we could come back this year.

      Bring it on and hope to be smiling late Saturday afternoon.

      • Rob on

        Agree. I think this could be a crash & burn for Scotland. There is something about away games that the Scottish team can not handle. Even this Captains Run not being at the Aviva ????????? Like most, I can only hope ……….

      • FF on

        That’s the spirit Rob!

        I think Cotter and Toonie have been taking us on a long journey – hopefully to the summit of World Rugby – we’re above the cloud line now, things are treacherous we’ve had a few falls, and not everyone is going to make it, but win or lose against ireland it is a matter of time before we nail a big away game and get the last monkey off our back before properly aiming for the Championship and Grand Slam. It could be Saturday, i’d say maybe a 25% chance, but I’ll tale those odds. Come on scotland, glory awaits!

  28. Referendum on

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kmFMK3YlRQQ

    This video was made in the whake of The Welsh defeat but I think it’s really worth a look for loads of reasons but it is timely for this match in Ireland now. You need to get past the first 30 seconds of what doesn’t seem like rugby. It’s really shows what has changed in recent history of Scottish Rugby and how first “Big Vern” changed things and how “Toonie” has developed that further.

    But why will Saturday be different should we throw an intercept early on or go 10 points down or generally not get off to a flying start? The video shows what happened to Price particularly with his start (Scotland dominated before that intercept don’t forget) And I don’t think Laidlaw has that in him to lose his cool under pressure or to compound mistake with mistake. And it was when he came on that our patterns changed to more of what we needed. So Saturday is in much safer hands with Laidlaw and we have Price to shake it up should that need to be later.

    Some of what has been said in this video and with Barclay revealing that they do 10 new plays every match and the whole team learn them and if they don’t they don’t play shows how much more Scotland has to come. This really is just the start and whatever way it goes on Saturday we are just scratching the surface of this brave new dawn.

    Lets hope Saturday is the next step and the next landmark ticked off. Win away from home outside Italy in the six nations.

  29. Neil on

    For the Italy game i would like to see this team as i believe it can get a job done while having a look at some weaker players in a potentially pressure environment.

    1. Jamie Bhatti (due a start imo)
    2. Stuart Mcinally
    3. WP Nel (lets see how his fitness is outwidth scrums)
    4. Grant Gilchrist
    5. Richie Gray
    6. John Barclay (Captain)
    7. John Hardie
    8. Ryan Wilson
    9. Ali Price (he deserves another shot)
    10. Finn Russell
    11. Sean Maitland
    12. Peter Horne
    13. Huw Jones
    14. Blair Kinghorn
    15. Stuart Hogg
    Subs
    16. Fraser Brown
    17. Gordon Reid
    18. Zander Fagerson
    19. Johnny Gray
    20. Luke Hamilton
    21. Greig Laidlaw
    22. Alex Dunbar
    23. Mark Bennett

    Yes i know Berghan and Watson out and J.Gray on bench, this is not reflected on performances as they are some of the standouts, The people coming in for them are international class and im not worried about any of them starting.

    Price has not become a bad player and will be desperate for a shot to prove himself again, Apart from that keep consistency in the backline to keep Kinghorn comfortable.

    On the bench Quality and experience in the forwards except Luke Hamilton who looked impressive in his cameo against the All Blacks

    Laidlaw can cover 9/10 and bring on the message well from toony.

    Alex Dunbar/Bennett – Harsh on grigg perhaps but these are both quality players who bring somthing different and with the versatility of Horne/Jones i think their is space on the bench for them both.

    I think this team is still close enough to our starting 15 for continuity and shows respect to Italy still, Thoughts ?

  30. Ginger McGhee on

    You must be getting bored waiting for Saturday. There are no easy games in the 6N and it would be just like Scotland to get the hard ones right and fluff Italy.

  31. Frozen North on

    Thanks for the great article Kevin and Referendum, thanks for sharing the Sexy Scottish rugby by Squidge Rugby!

    I only hope that Scotland keep their heads together and compete this Saturday, win or lose.

  32. Ginger McGhee on

    It is encoraging and I believe a decent article. Interesting observation that we do not panic when we go down to sides we consider better and see playing our way back into it as business as usual but we lose it against sides we see as equal. That rings true to me and we have guys here wanting to put out another side for Italy. I think there is pro’s and cons but the day Scotland have the discipline to stay focussed against a side for the full 80 is the day we have arrived in my opinion.

    Look at the evidence , Francis saying we let England off in second half an missed the bonus, he has a point , how often do we let a side back in. I always recognise a good team as one that has the discipline to stay in formation and play as a team against a side we are humping. I cannot quote instances but it feels right in my gut.

    • thebigiam on

      Not quite sure about letting teams off the hook. Yes, we missed bonus points against England and Ireland last year after fast first halves. But you’d expect a reaction from good sides, and England and Ireland are both good sides…

  33. Ginger McGhee on

    Yes you would expect them to come back fair point but our reaction to Wales was to let them get right back to where they left off which was cuffing us. So perhaps I do not entirely agree and I do think the geeky guy in he video has nailed it. We still have a few demons to shake yet, but there are a few less than there was before so its not bad news.

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