KO 2.15 at Aviva Stadium
Saturday 1st February 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.
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:
W L L L L L L
Most recent meeting in Dublin:
Ireland 19 – 12 Scotland
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.