Scotland v Ireland: Six Nations 2019, Match Preview pt I

KO 2.15 at BT Murrayfield
Saturday 9th February 2019

Live on BBC1

Past history would suggest a home win on Saturday is unlikely. Scotland have never won 2 in a row to start the Six Nations. You’d need to go back to the 1996 Five Nations for last time they opened with 2 victories (winning their first 3 to set up a Grand Slam decider against England in the final round…)

Equally significantly, Ireland have never lost 2 in a row to start the Six Nations. You’d need to go back to the 1998 Five Nations for the last time they opened with 2 defeats (they were whitewashed in that season’s tournament…)

Scotland’s combined results in the opening two rounds of the Six Nations:

  • 2 wins – never
  • Win + draw – never
  • Win + loss – 6 times
  • Draw + loss – 1 time
  • 2 losses – 12 times

Some superb recent home form should provide plenty of encouragement for Gregor Townsend’s men though. Last weekend’s victory over Italy was Scotland’s seventh in a row at Murrayfield in the Six Nations. That’s their longest streak in the championship since their best ever run of 8 consecutive home wins in the Five Nations across the 1972, 1973, 1974 and 1975 tournaments.

Ireland Scouting Report

Overpowered by the English

It’s unusual for the Irish pack to come up against someone bigger and nastier than them but that’s what happened in Round 1. Despite being used to dominating collisions and making the most of their physicality to stifle the opposition, Joe Schmidt’s side found themselves being knocked backwards by their English counterparts.

Across the starting pack Ireland made 61 carries for just 34 metres. Compare and contrast to their performance against New Zealand in November where numbers 1-8 made 84 carries for 148 metres, setting the platform for an historic win. Scotland don’t have the size at their disposal to match the intensity of England’s performance but they have to do everything they can to reduce the effectiveness of the Irish forwards in attack.

Exemplary Discipline

Even in difficult circumstances and eventual defeat to England the Irish maintained their iron discipline. Conceding just 4 penalties would normally have been an excellent way to prevent their opponents gaining territory and scoring positions but it wasn’t enough on this occasion.

Scotland themselves got little change out of Italy in terms of penalties (just 4 including the one that ended the game). Despite that they were able to pin the Azzurri back with an intelligent kicking game and good pressure. Similar tactics but executed even more perfectly may well be required on Saturday to get any kind of foothold in the Irish half.

Ball Retention

The foundation of Ireland’s gameplan is keeping hold of the ball. No-one in last season’s Six Nations could really come close to the men in green when it came to hammering out phase after phase of error-free rugby. The Irish only lost possession once for every 43 rucks they set up. France (1 in 34) and Scotland (1 in 32) were a distance behind in this stat but still ahead of England, Wales and Italy who coughed up ball twice as often as Ireland.

Scotland need to be aware that if they give possession away at the weekend it’s likely to need a massive effort to get it back. There are ways and means to try and reduce the impact of this: forcing Ireland to play in their own half; nailing kick receptions; keeping the penalty count as low as possible. Ultimately though the dark blues need to be attacking the breakdown relentlessly to slow or steal ball if they’re going to survive the onslaught.


  • Averaged (by some distance) the largest share of possession in last season’s Six Nations – 62%. Next highest was England with 53% and everyone else was below 50%.
  • Kicked proportionately less than any other team. They made 32% more carries per kick than the average for the remaining sides.
  • Only England (with 65%) had a lower success rate with kicks at goal than Ireland’s 76% in last year’s tournament.

Previous results

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


Most recent meeting at Murrayfield:

Scotland 27 – 22 Ireland

Significant stat
274 tackles attempted by Scotland – over 100 more than Ireland. Despite only missing 9 tackles (compared to 32 missed by Scotland) the Irish found themselves on the wrong end of 3 tries and couldn’t match the dark blues efficiency in converting their chances. Gregor Townsend’s men will need to be similarly clinical in this season’s match if they are to come away with another win.

The Scottish Rugby Blog match report from that game is here.


Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant Referee 1: Pascal Gauzere (France)
Assistant Referee 2: Alexandre Ruiz (France)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)

M. Poite and M. Ruiz were both on duty as Assistant Referees for Ireland’s clash with England last Saturday. It would be interesting to know if they’re bringing any preconceptions into this match having seen the Irish at close quarters so recently.

The French official hasn’t always been the best news in terms of the penalty count for Scotland. This has improved a touch in recent fixtures and it’s also over 5 years since he last sin binned a Scotsman (unsurprisingly it was big Jim Hamilton picking up the yellow card on that occasion!)

Scotland’s last 5 games with M. Poite in charge:

  • 2014 – lost to New Zealand (H)
    Penalties: 17 (For 7 – 10 Against)
    Cards: none
  • 2015 – lost to England (A)
    Penalties: 18 (For 8 – 10 Against)
    Cards: none
  • 2015 – beat Italy (H)
    Penalties: 26 (For 14 – 12 Against)
    Cards: Italy 2 YCs
  • 2017 – beat Ireland (H)
    Penalties: 16 (For 7 – 9 Against)
    Cards: none
  • 2018 – lost to South Africa (H)
    Penalties: 17 (For 9 – 8 Against)
    Cards: South Africa 1 YC

Part II of the preview, including the head to heads, will follow on Friday after the team announcement on Thursday.


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

30 comments on “Scotland v Ireland: Six Nations 2019, Match Preview pt I

  1. Martin on

    Scotland’s best chance is to move the ruck side to side – protect the ball and try and get some forward momentum on phase 3/4. If we do get the chance of quick ball then we need to to be quicker at getting it out of there (Laidlaw !!!) and accurate moving out the back of the midfield or else it could be a very long afternoon. As much as I would love a Scotland win, I just cant see us hurting them at the breakdown and gain line. We don’t have a world class jackal without Watson or Barclay and we don’t have the go forward / bulk without Skinner. And whilst I think Jonny Gray is a better defender and carrier than Toolis I am not convinced he is a better lineout caller and jumper – O’Mahony is a real nuisance at stealing ball at the front so we need to have bravery to execute quality middle or back of the lineout plays – I think this is a huge test of Gray and McInally.

    Ireland by 15 (reluctantly)

  2. Referendum on

    So looking forward to this match. Possibly the happiest and most joyful I’ve been at a sporting event ever when I knew that we were going to do the impossible and win his match in 2017. The odds were so far against us that day. More so that this year, still a long shot but you never know.

    • JohnMc on

      Yes, I remember being lucky enough to have a ticket for that Test.
      Ireland turned up bursting with over-confidence for the match.

      Two memorable, extended passages of play for me that day. The stunning attacking in the first half to score three tries.

      Then the fighback from a point down late in the second half, starting with Barclay’s line-out steal near our own line and continuing with battering Ireland up front for the rest of the match to earn the two penalties.

      I think that was Watson’s ‘breakthrough’ performance iirc, coming on for an injured Hardie?

      Without wishing to dwell too long on past success, if Strauss gets a start and plays anything like the way he played in Paris in 17, maybe Ireland won’t end up as front-foot as many of their pundits and supporters still believe will be the case on Saturday.

  3. James on

    Excellent article. Interesting analysis, what were the stats on the game last year where, arguably, we shot ourselves in the foot by not taking the three try scoring opportunities we had early on. If we can create opportunities and take them early on the I feel we could hold on for the win. It is going to be some contest though (assuming we don’t get blown away and implode a la Twickenham 2017 or Cardiff 2018).

    • Referendum on

      I think an implosion is not impossible but unlikely. We could really do without a yellow card at all but certainly early on or late on. We are possibly the worst tier one for defending well down to 14 or capitalising on an extra man.

      Keep your head and don’t do anything that the excitement of the occasion could bring about. Fraser Brown’s rush of blood was our downfall in Twickenham. We must avoid this type of thing at all costs. There were at east three times I can remember in the Ireland game 2017 that we were close to a yellow card and either Ireland scored or we got a penalty or turnover just before the yellow was coming. Especially on Saturday it will be worth losing the try than the man the majority of the time.

  4. Big Al on

    I think Ringrose, Toner and Stander will be missed. Also noticed Furlong was playing with a really swollen left hand in the last game. I suspect a few of the others will be pretty bruised too so we really need a fast and robust start to see who is still hurting. I can see the old Glasgow tactic of pressurizing Murray being deployed too. Should be a cracking game and looking forward to the teams being announced.

  5. Referendum on

    Any chance of another cheeky wee line out routine? Would be fabulous. Hogg to do at least scan and break through the props to score a some point!!!

    And most importantly Hands In The Ruck for next week please.
    Ugo Moyne moaning on the Rugby Union Weekly about the whole of Dublin laughing at his prediction of an England win in the run up to the match on Saturday and feeling all got at.

    You had no idea till now how annoying it is to have sycophantic English fans pouring swing low sweet chariot all over you with their arrogance constantly and now you maybe have a wee understanding of it. #doublestandards.

    • Andrew McGavin on

      I listened to Monye on that podcast too, and tbh didn’t find it nearly as annoying as the fact that Danny Care still can’t give up being a chippy wee bam about last year’s Calcutta Cup. Comes across as bitter and unfortunately just can’t bring himself to say ‘Well done, Scotland. You played well.’

      What is it about certain former/current England scrum halves who get lots of media jobs – Steve Smith (from my childhood), Matt Dawson (who I actually quite enjoy listening to), Austin Healey and the aforementioned Mr Care spring to mind. Could it be that some sections of the English media deliberately employ provocateurs to get ratings by riling everyone up?

      For the record, I generally find Monye and Chris Jones entertaining, fair-minded and usually pretty accurate in their perceptions. Monye can be critical of Scotland, but he still regards Finn’s pass from that game as the best he has ever seen.

      • JohnMc on

        I like Monye too. Still think the only reason he made the Lions party in 2009 was that (‘that’ should be in bold and italics) cover tackle on Thom Evans at Twickenham ten years ago.

    • Ńéíł on

      What i particularly enjoyed about listening to Monye and Care talking about that stuff was there annoyance over Ryan Wilson and how he was booing the English team at an awards dinner, he now automatically gets an extra 2 points on every player rating from now on imo.

  6. Newhaven_Boy on

    There is a theory that you attack the pillars of their game if you can do that you can beat a good side. Following that theory I put forward they build their whole game on the ball retention and kicking to compete highlighted above.

    England showed how to make the kick to compete problematic by having what amounted to a mass blocking plan for box kicks. A bit of that and keeping Seymour, Hogg and Kinghorn at the back 3 might well work. And make Murrays life awkward.

    The other thing to do is aggressively go after their ball at ruck time. . I don’t see us driving them back like England did so challenge after the tackle seems a more viable Scottish way. As such I would really consider Hardie for this game even though Wilson did a good job last week. Hardie and Richie challenging with Rambo as well might give us a chance to make Poitre blow up and penalise them for holding on or blocking off. Its risky because it depends on how the ruck is interpreted but I think plays to a potential strength better than any attempt to out muscle them

    Oh and go wide and kick long to space. Narrow attacks up the guts of that Irish defence is lunacy.

    It would also really help if most of those cute chips over the top by Russell go to our hands.

    • RuggersB on

      Its pretty clear for a while now that putting the ball over the top of their rush defense and their wingers… who position themselves far too advanced…. if the ball is placed accurately…and without being predictable about it …causes Ireland to lose their shape quickly. They don’t have the pace or talent ( ringrose the exception…stockdale is very overated imo) in their backs that Scotland do… and rely more on their physicality to gain momentum.
      Also, their scrum often runs right on the edge of legality…seem to get away with a lot of suspect tactics.

      I really hope the game doesn’t degenerate into a box kicking borefest…if it does Scotland will lose. We need to play our own pace ball in hand …thats our best suited style of play. Ireland’s is dogged muscle, rush defense, maul and hoofball.

    • Boston Raider on

      The Irish cover was naive to say the least against England. Henshaw was chasing shadows all game and was posted missing at every try – it would be lunacy if he is picked at Fullback again. I expect Kearney to come in to shore up the defence and be in a position to take the odd kick. Ringrose is a huge loss for them although a midfield of Aki and Henshaw is not too shoddy.
      If they are as fired up on Saturday as they were against the All Blacks it will be a long afternoon.

  7. Martin on

    Toony Tombola predictor game – Swinson to play blindside, Horne and Johnson to partner in the midfield and Maitland replacing Kinghorn who is dropped altogether as a 6/2 split on the bench leaves Price and H. Jones as the only back options…

    • Ńéíł on

      That is an interesting Tombola pick… but let spice it up abit.

      1. Dell
      2. Mcinally
      3. Berghan
      4. Gilchrist
      5. Toolis
      6. Ritchie
      7. Brown
      8. Wilson
      9. Laidlaw
      10. Russell
      11. Seymour
      12. Johnson
      13. Hogg
      14. Maitland
      15. Kinghorn

      16. Hardie
      17. Bhatti
      18. Mcallum
      19. Gray
      20. Strauss
      21. Horne
      22. Horne
      23. Jones (huw)

      • RuggersB on

        Hogg out of his normal position when he is just getting his form back ?? …just plain nah.

        Kinghorn alongside Johnson would be interesting to see….not in this match though.

        Hardie at hooker would be very interesting….if he can throw a lineout ball….his game would seem ideal for a GT Scotland hooker…especially later in game with players tiring.

        Wilson at 8??….ludicrous suggestion…ha

    • RuggersB on

      I can see Swinson coming in with Skinner out injured. Dropping Kinghorn is not a smart move imo….Maitland on the bench or replacing Seymour wiser imo.

      P Horne in for Jones yikes….Jones might be a bit off his best…but he can turn a game. P Horne turns a game too….but not in a good way… brain farts when we really need him not to do that.

  8. Historic Banffshire on

    I think this Saturday’s game is poised beautifully. Appreciate they remain favourites but this feels like a 55/45 game rather than the usual 70/30.
    Due to some horrendous planning I will be in mid air at KO. The last time this happened to me – 11th March 2017. Please don’t let the same thing happen boys…..

  9. Historic Banffshire on

    To throw my tuppence worth into the selection debate I would change as little as possible from last week other than the necessary switch in back rowers to:
    6 Wilson – more effective here than 8 anyway
    7 Ritchie – Good work rate and as Barclay-like as we have
    8 Strauss- looked to pass more than usual last week so Gregor’s message is getting through
    4/5 Gilchrist/Gray – we’ll need a high tackle rate in the engine room and these are the best at our disposal currently.
    3-Berghan for Nel – given his impact in the loose, not sure we lose anything with this switch tbh.
    Don’t change the backs, just get them enough ball (40% possession would be something).
    Here’s to it.

  10. Saltire62 on

    Going to be a tough game on Saturday and think weather may be a factor with strong wind and rain on the cards. In days of old that would have been right up our street but not they way we want to play now!
    Don’t see Toony making too many unforced changes but would like to see Hardie come in to give us a bit of nous at 7 with Wilson at 6 and Strauss at 8. I really like Ritchie but can cover 6/7 off bench and offer real impact. Think Johnny Gray will come in with Toolis on bench along with (hopefully) Brown, Maitland and P Horne. That would give us a much stronger/ more experienced bench than last week

    So good luck Scotland!

    Here’s my guess at tomorrow’s Toony tombola!
    1. Dell
    2. McInally
    3. Berghan
    4. Gilchrist
    5. Gray
    6. Wilson
    7. Hardie
    8. Strauss
    10. Russell
    13. Jones
    14. Seymour
    15. Hogg

    16. Brown
    17. Bhatti
    18. McCallum
    20. Ritchie
    21. Price
    22. P Horne
    23. S. Maitland

    • Warks Scot on

      Think that looks about right, just hope Brown is ok to be thrown into such a massive game straight after some time out for injury. It is a tough call on Ritchie but agree that he’s a better bench choice than Hardie due to his flexibility. I can also see Toonie sticking with Harris in the 23 as he covers wing & centre & did ok last week when he came on. If Jones gets crocked, not sure how a Horne/Johnson pairing would work- has Johnson spent much time at 13? Just hope whoever is picked is totally focussed & wiling to front up to the Irish physicality.

      • Fraser on

        I don’t agree with the “put the player that can play multiple positions on the bench” argument.

        Really, there’s no difference in having them start then switch position if there’s an injury or start on the bench except if they are a better player, surely they should be starting!

        Yes, have a flexible player in the 23 over someone of similar skill that can only play 1 position, but it’s not relevant for the starting 15.

    • Newhaven_boy on

      I also would play Ritchie and have Wilson on the bench. I think we need more breakdown jackling and Hardie is good at that.

  11. Daihard on

    You always overestimate the opposition , Cymru would never give that much respect. Believe you can win . Yr Alban are going to be a tough side at Murrayfield . Iwerddon now have confidence problems and will try too hard . Get an early score and let them chase it. Respect the ball, make them offend. We can settle the championship in March. Cymru am Byth.

  12. Referendum on

    He will add significantly to that win. If it’s close around 60 mins he’ll be a big factor yes. The unseen work is crucial to teams and I don’t think folks on here put enough emphasise on it. Townsend obviously sees that.

    We’ll see what happens though. I thought he was playing for France on Friday when the big man came on with his arms and legs everywhere and that guy made an impact. The rest of the French side fell apart at the same time, this Scottish side has enough experience, skill and class to not fall off like last week and I’m quietly confident now.

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