Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Ireland v Scotland: Autumn Nations Cup 2020, Match Preview pt I

KO 2.15 at Aviva Stadium
Saturday 5th December 2020

Live on Amazon Prime

308 days since Scotland kicked off their Six Nations campaign at the Aviva Stadium they will round out their tilt at the Autumn Nations Cup at the same venue. This will be the ninth game of 2020 for the Scots. A win percentage of 67% for the calendar year would be their best since 1999 (and would be none too shabby given the warm-up game against Georgia was their only Test against a side from outwith Tier 1 this year).

Standing in their way though are the Irish team who dismissed them at the World Cup a little over 12 months ago and a match played at a ground at which Scotland have not won since 1998…

Scotland wins in competitive games against Ireland during the 21st Century:

  • 2001 – Murrayfield (32 – 10)
  • 2010 – Croke Park (20 – 23)
  • 2013 – Murrayfield (12 – 8)
  • 2017 – Murrayfield (27 – 22)

Ireland Scouting Report

Whoever Controls The Territory Possesses It

Ireland have been the masters of dominating territory during the Autumn Nations Cup. The second forty minutes against Wales (49%) is the only period they haven’t consistently set up camp in the opposition’s half of the pitch:

  • Wales 1st half – 85% territory
  • England 1st half – 66%
  • England 2nd half – 77%
  • Georgia 1st half – 77%
  • Georgia 2nd half – 82%

The main positive here for Ireland is controlling the game. There’s a lower risk of conceding a kickable shot at goal or a try (although wonder scores from England’s Jonny May and Georgia’s Giorgi Kveseladze rather put a dampener on that thesis!) and Ireland can use their heavy hitters to grind their way to the line.

The negative is given the sheer volume of territory (and to a slightly lesser extent possession) Ireland have spent a lot of time in opposition territory huffing and puffing but just not being very effective and, at times, finding it a real struggle to score.

Scotland’s defensive solidity at the start of the Six Nations has erased some of the memories of being overrun in Yokohama a year ago. Another big outing against an opponent that has regularly overpowered the dark blues in recent years would further demonstrate how far this side has come. The way the Irish play will certainly mean plenty of work to do in defence.

Centre of Attention

Ireland have used 4 different starting centres in this tournament. With the guile of Garry Ringrose unavailable it’s been a quartet of 100kg+ specimens leading the charge in the backline. These lads are involved an awful lot, averaging 17 touches of the ball per game each (Scotland’s starting centres get around half that many opportunities).

This is another area that plays to Ireland’s strengths. If they accept that most of their possessions will be among congested defences inside opposition territory then the kind of players who can get over the gain line even when crashing up into multiple tacklers become ever more valuable.

That’s not to suggest there’s a lack of skill there and Robbie Henshaw and Bundee Aki in particular would be no-one’s idea of a straight up and down agricultural player. Even still, job number one for these players is to win the gain line.

That means the same is true for Scotland’s centres. This will be a very different type of challenge from facing Gael Fickou and Virimi Vakatawa last time out. With the amount of ball heading into the Irish midfield it’s essential that, most likely, Sam Johnson and Chris Harris play exceptionally well at 12 and 13 to contain their opposite numbers.


  • James Ryan has been unusually profligate with the penalties – conceding 7 across the games against Wales and England. The pressure of leadership does strange things to people and he may welcome the reported return of Johnny Sexton and the chance to focus on his own game a bit more.
  • Ireland are the only team in the tournament who have yet to attempt more than 100 tackles in a game. If Scotland can force the Irish defence to work harder then chances should come.
  • Ireland’s lineout creaked against Wales and England with 6 lost and a lowly 77% success rate. They are always dangerous on opposition throw though and Scotland will need to be sharp to maintain their own 90% completion.

Previous results

This will be the 8th time since 2010 that the two sides have met in Dublin. The head to head looks like this from Scotland’s perspective:


Most recent meeting in Dublin:

Ireland 19 – 12 Scotland

Significant stat
0 – number of tries scored by Scotland. Five-pointers have been hard to come by for the dark blues in Dublin. In the last 20 years the only Scottish players to score tries in a competitive game away to Ireland are – Blair Kinghorn, Stuart Hogg, Richie Gray (2), Alex Dunbar, Johnnie Beattie, Simon Webster, Ally Hogg and John Leslie.

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


Referee: Matthew Carley (England)
Assistant Referee 1: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant Referee 2: Karl Dickson (England)
TMO: Dan Jones (Wales)

It has been more than three years since Mr Carley last took charge of a Scotland game. On that occasion, despite handing the dark blues the bulk of the penalties and sin binning two Kiwis, there were still unnoticed offences that rankle with many Scottish fans.

A lack of communication from the players was certainly part of the issue though (as discussed here) and it’s essential that there is a healthy flow of information with the ref against an Irish side who are normally masters of playing to the limits set by the officials.

Scotland’s previous games with Mr Carley in charge:

  • 2016 – beat Georgia (H)
    Penalties: 21 (For 9 – 12 Against)
    Cards: Scotland 1 YC (Moray Low); Georgia 1 YC
  • 2017 – lost to New Zealand (H)
    Penalties: 28 (For 15 – 13 Against)
    Cards: New Zealand 2 YCs

Part II of the preview, including the head to heads, will follow later in the week, after the team announcements.

11 Responses

  1. I haven’t seen the team announcement yet but I don’t think it really matters, I can’t see a win coming our way. The Irish provinces 2nd strings are having Glasgow and Edinburgh on toast just now. The Irish funding model is providing real strength in depth. Sure they are learning a different style of play under Farrel but they have quality across the team and know if they turn it on they will win
    We just don’t have that depth and with injuries/doubts over our 1st choice players such as Sutherland, Ritchie and Russel coupled with an unimaginative centre pairing and our long term problem at number 8 we cannot expect to win.
    Nevertheless, “C’mon Scotland”

    1. A very balanced view. We do not expect much , a win would be great , however a big ask , away from home. Ireland are in change , so this is likely to be the best chance we will get, however, we are not at our strongest and they are relentless. We just do not seem to be getting the breaks again. It will be a good game, look forward to it.

  2. Farell is a myster No cooney: no Rudduck ( great captaincy qualities) + ball carrying strength : second row Ultan should be there. The list is endless. Wrong coach: rugby league defence coach, it shows. Jim.

  3. I think there is an opportunity for some of our guys to state their claim for a lions place against Irish players that would likely go in our stead. Who knows if the 6 nations will go ahead as planned.

    Looks like we have a settled front 5 and it will be really interesting to see if they really compete away from home in Ireland. Can Ritchie stake a claim. How about Price. Will anyone of the backs apart from Hogg appear in Gatlands thoughts. I think our wings have a chance and you never know Taylor might be a bolter.

  4. Seriously excited about this game now the squad is out. So pleased about the debut at 10 and that Jones is on the bench. What a bench it is too!

  5. Also excited with the selection and very powerful bench. Feel sorry for wee Dunc and thought his place kicking would see him retain his spot. I confess to not knowing much about JVDW but obviously GT has seen something that will hopefully improve our attack and good luck to him. Really hope that big Dunc is back to form and capable of more speed than we saw during last appearances. I feel Ireland are there for the taking and quietly confident this team can deliver. C’mon & Gerr intake them!!

  6. The 10 – 12 axis is going to be an interesting one to see. I’m looking forward to see how Taylor plays taking the opposition’s 10-12’s focus allowing Harris and Jones when he comes on to make ground and allowing the back three to attack the space. What’s folks thoughts on Blade at 6? Does this allow two style 8’s with Fagerson also running on the kick returns breaking gain line and adding threat?

    1. Think this back row is intriguing and together entirely compensates for a lack of big ball carrying 8. It does everything, and as much as a miss Watson may be, there’s something about 3 big lads, all with ability to compete, all with ability to carry.

  7. Agree with Tam & a lot of the points above.
    VDW is a much better fit at 10 than Weir who (IMO) has always been too slow.
    Still can’t see the point in persevering with Harris.
    Thompson is not an international 8 much better suited to 6, can hopefully get some ball in open paddock.

    Powerful front 5 a chance for the front row to impress Gatland.

    Taylor – I thought he was done & will be delighted if he proves me wrong.

    Need to involve the back 3, this kicking for territory malarkey is daft when we have their firepower

  8. Solid looking team, excited to see what they can do.

    Forward pack is very strong and increasingly settled. Watson is obviously a big loss but it gives us a chance to try out a different balance. Would have preffered Skinner at 6 over Thomson but not overly fussed.

    Backline is looking better. Add in Russell for VDW (who I’ve never been a huge fan of) and its starting to look very dangerous. Absolutely love seeing Taylor back – probably my pick of our (many, many) centres over the last decade and by far the most well-rounded option we’ve had. Would be nice for him to have some redemption after a poor 2019. Hopefully he and Hogg can assist VDW with the distribution to the back 3 and allow Harris to focus on punching holes and his defence.

    Bench has got some serious class. Being able to bring on Mcinally, Kebble and Nel on 60 mins is huge. Cowan is a nice safe option if one of our back row is underperforming as well. Would love to see Jones make some impact as well.

    Can feel that very worrying glimmer of hope for this….

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Scottish Rugby News and Opinion