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
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 L W L L L
Most recent meeting in Dublin:
Ireland 35 – 25 Scotland
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.
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)
- 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.