Ireland v Scotland: Match Preview Pt II – head to heads

Another week, another new challenge for Gregor Townsend and his coaching staff. This will probably be the toughest away game so far in the head coach’s tenure with Ireland pursuing a record 11th consecutive Test win. Gregor needs the performance to follow the template set in Australia last summer – and not his sides’ other other away games against Fiji and Wales. So do the players Toony’s selected have it in them do more than just irritate the Irish?

Tale of the tape

74   Tries   46
302   Total caps   232
151   6N caps  107
28.1   Average age   26.7

903kg   Pack weight   891kg
341   Total caps  237
173   6N caps   108
28.1   Average age   28.0

191   Total caps   148
87   6N caps   67
25.6   Average age   28.0

Scotland changes from last Test (v England)

  • 14 – Kinghorn for Seymour
    [-] a supremely talented player but he’s replacing a Test match veteran and featuring in an unfamiliar position.
  • 16 – Brown for Lawson
    [+] might have been Scotland’s number one hooker but Rambo has the jersey now.
  • 23 – L. Jones for Kinghorn
    [=] a solid presence to cover the back 3

15 Rob Kearney
14 Keith Earls
13 Garry Ringrose
12 Bundee Aki
11 Jacob Stockdale
10 Jonny Sexton
9 Conor Murray
ADV Scotland
ADV Ireland
ADV Scotland
ADV Ireland
ADV Scotland
ADV Ireland
ADV Ireland
15 Stuart Hogg
14 Blair Kinghorn
13 Huw Jones
12 Peter Horne
11 Sean Maitland
10 Finn Russell
9 Greig Laidlaw

1 Cian Healy
2 Rory Best (c)
3 Tadgh Furlong
4 James Ryan
5 Devin Toner
6 Peter O’Mahony
7 Dan Leavy
8 CJ Stander

ADV Ireland
ADV Scotland
ADV Ireland
ADV Scotland
ADV Ireland
ADV Scotland
ADV Ireland

1 Gordon Reid
2 Stuart McInally
3 Simon Berghan
4 Grant Gilchrist
5 Jonny Gray
6 John Barclay (c)
7 Hamish Watson
8 Ryan Wilson

16 Sean Cronin
17 Jack McGrath
18 Andrew Porter
19 Iain Henderson
20 Jordi Murphy
21 Kieran Marmion
22 Joey Carbery
23 Jordan Larmour

ADV Ireland
ADV Scotland
ADV Ireland
ADV Scotland
ADV Ireland
ADV Ireland

16 Fraser Brown
17 Jamie Bhatti
18 Willem Nel
19 Tim Swinson
20 David Denton
21 Ali Price
22 Nick Grigg
23 Lee Jones


Backs – advantage Ireland
A contrast of styles here – not least between the two stand offs. Finn Russell will play the game with a smile on his face even when things are going wrong. Johnny Sexton’s on pitch demeanour tends more towards that of a US Customs officer (sans rubber gloves). It wouldn’t do to underestimate either man based on appearances though. Russell takes his preparation very seriously indeed and his kicking game will be equally as important as his attacking flair if Scotland are to have a chance of winning. Sexton has a number of weapons in his armoury if he feels the opportunity is there to attack with the ability to find or create space through his passing, kicking or even his running game.

Forwards – advantage Ireland
Even with their all Lions front row (including a spare on the  bench) the Irish pack haven’t managed to really dominate anyone in the scrum so far in this season’s 6 Nations. With Scotland displaying their solidity at the setpiece it’s possible the crowd are in for the relative treat of a scrum platform that just gets the ball in and out so that the rest of the game can resume. Scotland edge the second row but the back row is an area Ireland will look to dominate. They will have learned lessons from the way England failed to contain the Scottish loose forwards and Messrs. O’Mahony, Leavy and Stander are unlikely to be as charitable as the Scots’ last opponents.

Subs – advantage Ireland
There’s an interesting mix of youth and experience on the bench for both sides. The obvious game changers are in the backs with Joey Carbery and Ali Price able to transform their respective team’s tempo and style of play if required. Iain Henderson could well be the forward that has most impact and he’ll reinforce Ireland’s high intensity carrying game when he enters the field of play.


– The Lions count heavily favours Ireland 11 to 4.

– 19 out of the Irish 23 were involved on the opening weekend. Just 3 changes to the starting XV.

– 16 out of the Scottish 23 were involved on the opening weekend. 7 changes to the starting XV – 5 of them being players who were on the bench against Wales. Jamie Bhatti is the only player still among the replacements from round 1.

– Only 10 of the 30 players who started this same fixture two years ago return in the same roles on Saturday. In all there are 29 changes from the combined matchday squads, illustrating the precarious nature of a career as a Test rugby player.

– Finn Russell has never faced Ireland in Dublin. Last time out he was injured. The time before that he wasn’t even on Scotland’s radar – he hadn’t even started a single game for Glasgow at stand off by that point. It’s been a rapid ascension to his current position as the dark blues’ undisputed first choice 10.

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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

52 comments on “Ireland v Scotland: Match Preview Pt II – head to heads

  1. TeamCam on

    Interesting calls on Aki vs. Horne and Sexton vs. Russell.

    I think Horne is an underrated player, and Aki hasn’t really done much internationally, or domestically since Connacht won the Pro12. Horne’s made a couple of mistakes, but has generally performed really well. If we were offered a swap, I don’t think I’d take it.

    Sexton is more consistent than Russell – although let’s not forget he was pretty pants for most of 2017, including the 6N – but Russell at his best does everything Sexton can and more. His performances against Wales, Australia, New Zealand and Australia last year, and against were top drawer, as was his performance against England last month. If we were offered a swap, I’d be tempted by Sexton’s consistent excellence, but Finn at his best is too good to give up!

    Stockdale is an interesting one. He’s scored eight tries in seven matches, which is very impressive, but only two were against a top team performing well (Wales). Let’s hope we end his 100% win streak!

    • bodach on

      Aki is a class centre, but Stockdale (though he knows where the try line is) can be suspect in defence. When Scotland go wide there is an opportunity to get past him.

    • Big Al on

      I agree I’m not sure that Aki is better than Horne. I think the Glasgow boys have worked him out since their losses to Connacht a couple of years ago.

      Either way as a collective unit I’d prefer the Scotland back over the Irish ones at the moment.

      Unfortunately I think this one will be won or lost up front.

    • FF on

      Finn’s got all the skills but Sexton is one of those players who can take a game by the scruff of the neck, bend the team to his will and find a way to win tests. Russell has some way to go before he is in that company – he might get there, he’s got all the attributes but maybe needs a bit more experience of the highest pressure games. Sexton was pretty old when he really emerged as a world class FH so Russell has time on his side.

      • Wilsysir on

        This comment along with the stat of Finn never having played in Dublin might help highlight Finns inconsistency.
        A quick look at some basic stats (taking from Wiki and Edin/Glas SRU site) throw up some interesting numbers he has played 30 odd games for Scotland and only 70 odd for Glasgow only really his 4th season as a pro (again apologies if these facts are nonsense) that to me suggests that even though he is probably now seen as one of the senior players for Scotland and obviously Glasgow hes still relatively green. The only reason we expect him to me amazing and mature every game is because he has been thrown in at the deep end for Scotland. A quick comparison is with Blair Kinghorn who has almost the same number of Edin apps (59) but only going for his 2nd cap (admittedly hes only 21) So basically my point is lets give poor Finn a bit of slack when he has a bad game.

  2. Referendum on

    Most stand out piece from the informative as always article is This is Finn’s first time playing in Ireland. Remarkable really. Would love to see him enjoy his day and take the millennium quaich or whatever it is home.

    Comparatively to our records against other teams in last ten years we are decent against Ireland now. What is it 4 wins from 10 outings? It’s not terrible. Here’s to adding that next notch to the positive record. 5 from 10 sounds very passable.

    • Finn Andrews on

      I think we might be able to edge it against Ireland (Would love to ruin the title party!!)

      If we are to edge it then we need to have Finn playing flat and the likes of Pete Horne running hard dummy lines at the Irish backline. Hoggy also needs to get more involved with the game like he used to pre lions tour. If we can have our forwards battering them up front and run hard lines in the backs then I believe we will take it by around 7-10 points – If we don’t? Well it will be painful viewing I suspect…

      • Big Al on

        Hogg always loves taking on Ireland and the Irish Pro teams in the wide channels. Fully expect to see the same this weekend. Maybe though we’ll see Jones and Kinghorn left to do that while Hogg is pulling the defense in the opposite direction. Wouldn’t be surprised if we see him and others coming up fast as first receiver more often too.

  3. Ginger McGhee on

    McInally is good , iexcellent perhaps ,I would say ‘even’ would be a better rating against Best but I can see why we might say ADV to Scotland and a close call. I think Best has a lot of experience on his side and a great linout finder. I can see McInally raising Scotland , better than Best in the loose and having all the credibility to captain Scotland one day but Best is there,can raise Ireland and has been tested over and over. The game itself will tell us how that one goes.

  4. GavinB on

    Great if we could do it, but as Big Al says it probably rests with the forwards. However, despite being written down, they have performed beyond expectations so far this series – even in Wales. Parity is good enough to give our backs a chance. How does Toony’s guile and cunning compare with Schmit’s?

  5. GavinB on

    The weather forecast I use for sailing, XC Weather, forecasts rain today and overnight (heavy around midnight), easing up tomorrow morning and clearing around midday, with even a glimpse of sun in the afternoon. Wind for the match period 15 mph gusting 24 SSW. Good or bad? Not as bad as feared earlier.

  6. RuggersB on

    I’d say Scotland have better backs overall….Ireland edge forwards.

    If Scotland play with the intensity they did vs NZ, Aus and England…I dont think Ireland have played against anyone who has played as well for a while. If Scotland play as they can…Irelend are by no means a cert for this match…it could go either way.

  7. Blake Westwood on

    For my head to head between both sides line-ups this is how I see it

    15. Adv SCO
    14. Adv IRE
    13. Adv SCO
    12. Even
    11. Adv IRE
    10. Adv IRE
    9. Adv IRE
    8. Adv IRE
    7. Adv SCO
    6. Adv SCO
    5. Adv SCO
    4. Even
    3. Adv IRE
    2. Adv SCO/Even
    1. Adv IRE

    Maitland is starting to grow on me after his performances against France and especially England after having mercilessly bashing his entire career however I can’t think of any well respected pundit who would have Maitland in their team instead of Stockdale. Stockdale has everything. He reads the game brilliantly, already has 8 tries in his first 7 Ireland matches and has so much strength and pace. No question that Stockdale is a superior player to Maitland – would love a winger of his quality in Scotland’s team.

    Aki hasn’t done that much in test rugby and Pete Horne is in decent form at the moment so I would argue if 12 is an advantage to any team it is Scotland.

    On his day Russell can outperform any 10 bar Beauden in the world. It’s a close call but why Sexton edges it for me is he never has a bad game. He always has at least an 8/10 game and has just as much 10/10 game as Russell and that’s why Sexton is the better player.

    CJ Stander is a beast but the breakdown kings of Barclay and Watson need to be in at 6 and 7 and you can’t leave out Jonny Gray.

    Tough call between Best who is a legend of the game and still putting in world class performances and McInally and whilst part of me wants to say even i’m going let my Scottish control me and say advantage to Scotland. It’s a close call but his form both in the six nations and the autumn internationals has been pure world class and he deserves to be recognized for this

    • Alderbuck on

      I think yesterday’s match made an nonsense of your assessments – without playing particularly well Ireland secured a 20 point victory, which is astonishing considering you had them so evenly matched. Oh well…

  8. RuggersB on

    I think there would be 2 H2H’s.. one for current form…and another for max potential. My H2H would be ….based on form

    15. Adv SCO
    14. Adv SCO
    13. Adv SCO
    12. Even
    11. Adv SCO
    10. Even
    9. Adv IRE
    8. Adv IRE
    7. Adv Sco
    6. Even
    5. Adv SCO
    4. Even
    3. Even
    2. Adv SCO
    1. Adv IRE

    16 Even
    17 Adv Sco
    18 Adv Ire
    19 Adv Ire
    20 Adv Sco
    21 Adv Sco
    22 Even
    23 Even

    …h2h picks aside… I’d still make Ire favorites to edge it based on home advantage and form in 6N.

    • Michael on

      Thats just guff, sorry. Yes you can pick the best players but there are a whole lot of factors that go into them having a ‘good game’.

      England on paper beat the Scots any day of the week, look how that turned out.

      Stats are stats, and no guarantee of future performance.

      This may be my fan head talking but a current Scottish team firing on all cylinders will be a match for the best in the world.

      Well done Gregor and the coaching staff, players and the fans.

      About time we won one.

      Bring it.

      • Blake Westwood on

        Michael I think you underrate some of our players. Huw Jones, Hogg, Russell(on his day), McInally, Jonny Gray and Hamish Watson would all be in England’s starting 15.

        I know I can overly critical of some players and those who hype them up but those 6 players are all arguably world class players who most sides would be begging to have in their team

  9. Marv on

    Always enjoy reading these preview articles. It’ll be no surprise to anyone if Ireland put the ball up their jumper and go through 40 phases with Sexton kicking for field position. I’m not sure how they will cope if Scotland get some organised chaos going though.
    If the ball does make it out to the back line the Ireland will no doubt look to target Huw Jones which may open opportunities for Horne, or more likely Hogg.
    If Ireland try to slow Scottish ball in the midfield with the choke tackle and Scotland get an offloading game working then there will be gaps to exploit.
    Cannae wait.

  10. Referendum on

    Fear not all those who were terrified a Captain’s run at Murrayfield would doom us before the match. Colin Gregor was reliably telling the world on Sport Today that Scotland did it at The Aviva Stadium and set off earlier for Dublin.

    That is practically the match and the championship in the bag now.

  11. Neil on

    I would like to see Wilson whispering in Murrays ear down the Tunnel ‘Standing Leg’ with a delivish grin and the proceed to give him a ‘Pat’ on the leg, and then for the guys to group around Sexton and wind him up abit.

  12. Slough Massive on

    Appreciate this is not the most constructive comment, but I really dislike the joyless way that Ireland- and the likes of Ulster – play rugby. The dour Best, the wee nyaff on the wing and then the absolute worst, Murray and Sexton waving their arms around. I’d love a referee to tell them to wind their necks in.

    I’d love to win this game. Regardless of what happens Today, I’d even give consideration to wanting England to beat them.

    • Alderbuck on

      Yeah it must be so “joyous” getting your arse handed to you ever other match. Wales beat Scotland out the gate, and Ireland secured a comfortable 20 point victory without playing very well. And by the way, Scottish teams don’t have some kind of monopoly on attractive rugby, Leinster/Scarlett’s/ La Rochelle/Sarcens have all done it while actually winning. Because throwing the ball wildly around is easy, but consistently winning rugby matches is hard.

  13. Referendum on

    Error has compounded error today so far. Not what you want at all. Still believe though. Much better performance than Cardiff however just about the same score. Both teams made mistakes but Ireland haven’t compounded them that is the difference.

  14. TeamCam on

    Four words: Huw Jones can’t pass.

    Several more: forwards are going well. Sharpen the minds and the game is on. Try and force it and it’ll be a bloodbath.

    • Not rocket science on

      Too much time. At least it wasn’t an intercept like Horne! Plus Kinghorn looks like a liability.

      Still in it but whoever scores next.

      • Not rocket science on

        Take it back. Kinghorn has looked good. Denton looked good. Russell looked good. Mainland v good again. Huw Jones and Hogg good until final ball. Didnt take our chances – simple. This game was crying out for Dunbar / Taylor

  15. RuggersB on

    Mistakes cost that 1st half..more than Ireland outplaying Scotland. Pretty even match really.. scoreline flatters Ireland.
    Scotland playing too loose at critical times in match…good intent but execution not as good as vs England.
    Jones and Russell are being targeted and haven’t really been in game.

  16. Referendum on

    We’ve butchered 2 and a half tries so far and scored one. Not really good enough but still in it. Ireland looking weak now really weak in the last ten. Another try and we are back in it.

    • Rob on

      Too many certain tries butchered and Horne being poor cost us. We missed Ryan Wilson when he went off. Ritchie Gray should have been there instead of Swinston. Game was there if the stupid errors are stopped!!!!

  17. Ginger McGhee on

    Whatwever happpens today , I would like to say, so much better and we are finding gaps everywhere. It is just simple things, trying too hard. Steady the ship and do the simple things well. This is great rugby and overconfidence is our current enemy. Not a bad place to be.

  18. 1.8T on

    Barnes is just killing the contest now but we are playing completely the wrong way. I though we learned after Wales that aimless flinging from side to side (and then dropping it) achieves nothing. We are kicking what little possession we have had but the kicks aren’t contestable, all of Ireland’s kicks are contestable and they are having success at retaining them. Not quite as bad as Cardiff but not far off it.

  19. 1.8T on

    That’s two scrums now we have absolutely smashed them against the head but not even a sniff of a penalty.

  20. CSC on

    Scotland should learn from the way Ireland has controlled this game. Until they develop that ability they will not be RWC2019 ready.

  21. Callanan on

    Look at the stats, Jocks lost all the key battles. Only thing you won was the tackle count.
    Ye celebrated like ye won the thing after England game

  22. john on

    Ireland fully deserved their win, played the referee better & Sexton (in a similar way to Russell suits Scotland) suits their game so well.

    I question Toolis not being in the starting line up, he is our best line out option, we NEED the ball.

    You don’t pass up/give up tries like we did today & expect to win.

    The luck that seems to smile on us in Edinburgh is not as prevalent when we play away.

    Positives so far – Berghan, Nel (being fit), our attitude, Hogg, Maitland, Russell.

    Kinghorn did well today

    I still reckon Dunbar is crucial to Scotland, Bennett is a Scottish Ringrose but where does he fit in?

  23. Referendum on

    Fourth in the table is the odds on result with three wins now which is a really poor return. This was a much closer game than score line suggests. Should have been within a penalty kick at the end and that is mostly our own mistakes that caused that. The way the breakdown was reffed didn’t help at all but we have to adapt.

  24. Andrew McGavin on

    1. Far better than the Wales game, especially in the first half.
    2. Ireland clinical but their vulnerabilities not punished.
    3. I don’t think any Scot played badly. Horne created great chances, but made a couple of poor choices at critical moments. Unfortunately, that’s two games running for him with ‘scoring’ passes. Clear area for him to work on.
    4. Imo, Barnes had zero impact on who won that game.
    5. Passes off the left hand were unsympathetic or we tried to do too much with them. Imo, that’s the difference between home and away. Too up tight in key moments to make the right decision or pass cleanly.
    6. If chances had been taken, the whole atmosphere and maybe the result would have been different.
    7. Had hoped Ringrose would be rusty but he was class shutting down Jones and creating opportunities himself.
    8. Well done to Blair Kinghorn on a great first-full-test performance.
    9. Must put out our strongest team against Italy and give them respect, especially in Rome. No complacency.
    10. Will still be optimistic/confident for our World Cup match with Ireland next year.

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