Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Scotland v Ireland: Six Nations 2021, Match Preview pt I

KO 3.00 at BT Murrayfield
Sunday 14th March 2021

Live on BBC1

First, the bad news. Scotland have only managed a single victory in their last 10 meetings with Ireland in all competitions and have dropped their last five against the side who currently sit third in the Six Nations’ table.

Good news? Erm…well…Paul O’Connell thinks this is the strongest Scottish squad he’s seen. No-one got banned in the most recent round of matches played. Finn’s made it back from France in one piece and he is about due to rip it up. Scotland have beaten Ireland in every year ending in a 1 since 1981*.

Ireland Scouting Report

Keep Ball

Ireland’s approach to Test rugby lends itself to keeping possession for extended periods. Through the first three(ish) rounds of this season’s Six Nations five of the top six players for carries made are Irish. On the other side of the ball the men in green contribute just one of the top twenty tacklers.

Having spent a considerable amount of time in possession against both England (65%) and Wales (62%), Scotland will probably need to get used to being counter punchers. This might actually suit the more explosive talents in the Scottish backline like Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg rather than spending endless phases grinding away.

The biggest test will be for Steve Tandy’s defence with the dark blues likely to spend an awful lot of Sunday afternoon tackling. There will be no room for system errors or individual mistakes against an attack that will apply relentless pressure until they can find a weakness.

Kings of the Breakdown

The back five of the Irish scrum have been excellent around the contact area, providing a steady stream of turnover ball – and, as noted above, once Ireland get possession back they’re not going to give it up easily. Tadgh Beirne has led the way with 5 turnovers but he’s been ably supported by both Iain Henderson (4) and CJ Stander (3) meaning there isn’t just one player to avoid at the tackle and breakdown.

So far in this Six Nations, Scotland’s numbers for turnovers conceded have been pretty reasonable (12 against England and 10 against Wales) but this will be another level. With every concession of the ball likely to lead to an extended series of defensive shifts there will be absolutely no room for carelessness or being anything other than ferociously precise at the breakdown.

Disciplinary Dip?

It’s rare to see an Irish side’s iron discipline slip. This is no England-style meltdown but some of their performances of late have been a bit off the mark. Across the Autumn Nations Cup and early rounds of the Six Nations they have averaged 10 penalties per game. That’s by no means awful but they’re conceding nearly 20% more penalties than during the 2020 Six Nations. Add in Peter O’Mahony’s red card against Wales and Conor Murray’s yellow card versus Italy and they’re certainly off the peak of the Joe Schmidt era.

Scotland will have to think about their own discipline but if they can put Ireland under sufficient pressure then any penalties won will provide gilt-edged opportunities to grab some field position that would otherwise take multiple phases of hard graft. These situations may well provide some of Scotland’s best chances of scoring – they have to be efficient and take advantage.


  • Ireland have only conceded one scrum penalty in the championship so far – the best record in the tournament.
  • James Lowe has rapidly become the Irish go to option for kicking from hand. He has gained 910 metres with his kicking during the Six Nations, second only to Italy’s Paolo Garbisi.
  • Cian Healy has missed 8 of his 25 tackles for a lowly 68% tackle completion rate. As a man who regularly defends around the fringes of the ruck is there an opportunity there for Scotland to exploit?

Previous results

This will be the 11th time the two sides have met in Edinburgh for a Six Nations’ match. The head to head looks like this from Scotland’s perspective:


Most recent meeting at Murrayfield:

Scotland 13 – 22 Ireland

Significant stat
228 tackles attempted by Scotland – 49 more than Ireland. This was still an improvement on two years previously when Scotland had to make over 100 tackles more than the visitors. The missed tackle count was almost identical last time round – 26 for Scotland to 23 for Ireland (compared to 32 v 9 in 2017). For much of the game, in some ways Scotland did a far better job of pressing Ireland. They were undone on the scoreboard by a couple of defensive lapses and an inability to convert pressure into points. There was also a crucial 15 minute spell in the second half when Ireland just refused to give up the ball.

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


Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant Referee 1: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant Referee 2:  Andrea Piardi (Italy)
TMO: Alexandre Ruiz (France)

The Six Nations’ random referee generator seems to have got a bit stuck – M. Poite took charge of this same fixture in both 2017 and 2019 and he’s back in 2021 to make it a trio of Scotland v Ireland games at Murrayfield.

The French whistler tends towards low penalty counts which can either encourage continuity and running rugby – or teams just trying to get away with whatever they can! The breakdown will be a key area in this match and given M. Poite’s laissez faire attitude it’s likely it will be up to the teams to sort things out for themselves. Hamish Watson and Jamie Ritchie could have a field day but the Irish pack are masters of controlling the contact area.

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

  • 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
  • 2019 – lost to Ireland (H)
    Penalties: 13 (For 6 – 7 Against)
    Cards: none
  • 2019 – beat Georgia (H)
    Penalties: 19 (For 8 – 11 Against)
    Cards: Scotland 1 YC (Zander Fagerson), Georgia 2 YCs

* Yes this is reaching – particularly given the 2011 win was in an RWC warm-up match not the Six Nations game five months earlier…

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

47 Responses

  1. Quality as always Kevin. Toonie’s 44th game in charge, it’s now the longest coaching stretch in Scotland history in terms of tests (Telfer and Geech both had more games in charge, but over multiple periods). Pumped for this one, it would be such an important step in our growth if we could put Ireland away.

  2. This is a huge game for Townsend. Is the England result a revival or was the Wales result just say that agsinst the English we got lucky, but still unable to lock out games. Game management and discipline are vital. Keep the heads. Any news on Redpath?

    1. Cam was in non contact training with Bath last weekend and looks to be moving well. Maybe there’s a chance we might see him for France. They won’t want to take any risks though.

    2. I don’t think the England game was luck. In the past 4 fixtures against them we’ve won 2, drawn 1, lost 1, and the one we lost was by a score.
      Producing that kind of performance consistently takes confidence and belief and the atmosphere in Scottish rugby hasn’t always been conducive to that. Constant pressure and expectation from fans followed by trashing the players when they lose a game by a score or a point.

      Regarding Cam, he’s not going to make this game, maybe we should use Taylor while we’ve got him. He’s a quality player at the end of his career.

      We’ve got to beat Ireland some time, and they’re the only 6N team Townsend hasn’t won against. Just go for it!

      1. An Irish relative described is as England’s bogey team, which I hadn’t considered but is true for the last few years. Their 2018 slump was started by us running rings round them in Murrayfield and it looks like their 2021 slump has been started by us too.

        Thistle saying Johnson in for Lang and Maitland in for Graham. No word on Hogg which is hopefully good news as it might have got out of camp if he wasn’t lining up in training yet.

        Also reports that Toonie is being lined up for Lions assistant role. Victory in this game could mean quite a few selections in the mix at the expense of Irish rivals. (Unlikely) victory in our last three games might see our representation soar.

      2. Iain posted somewhere that Johnson had said (embargoed at that time but not any more) he was in the original team for France before it was postponed so fair chance he starts this weekend.

      3. Getting players on Lions tours is sometimes underestimated in its importance. It’s a step up from a 6N squad and can turn a talented player into a world beater.
        The 97 Lions tour definitely played a role in the development of Scottish players including Toonie himself and we won the Championship in ’99.
        It’s important for the development of the Scotland team that we get more players than we’ve had on the tour.

    3. Ffs we lost against Wales by a point after playing 25mins with 14 men.
      Wales then went on to trounce England, perhaps riding a bit of luck again but it looks like they’ve improved a lot since last season.

      The negativity is sometimes grinding.

      1. Yes but we lost a player against Wales and at the end result it is a loss. The discipline from the 35th minute was atrocious.

        This is as good a squad as we have had in years. It now needs results over the next 3 weekends.

  3. All I ask for is no silly red cards or incompetent officiating. This is a campaign defining game for both sides. Losing would mean a very poor 6N whereas the winners will be back in the mix for the championship.

  4. We may well lose on Saturday but I think if we keep 15 on park we’ll have enough.

    We’ve had may false dawns and really if you look at it in the cold light of day it was always hope rather than any concrete evidence…each of these new dawns continued to give us long time away losing streaks and not much sign of any coming soon.

    After a dismal campaign that glimmer came in 2019 in London. 1st away result in 6N barring Italy since 2002.

    We have in 2 years only gone and knocked 2 of the 4 records on the head very cooly without fluster.

    We aren’t a soft touch anymore and we believe. We can still lose but we’re a more hardened animal. We’ll contend for the next few years will we win it? No one can tell.

    We may well thank Finn for shaking it up last year…it has brought about a new collectiveness and purpose and input from many….it could be in the long run the edge we need.

    1. Hoping that we at least have until Sunday before we can lose 😉
      The way this 6N has turned though might not rule out a Saturday “defeat”

  5. My questions on this match are:
    Are we physical enough? In past matches against Ireland we’ve seemed to lose the collisions and that’s put us on the back foot.

    Are we streetwise enough? We know Ireland play “close to the edge” are we able to deal with that whilst making sure we take every advantage we can.

    Are we mentally ready? We clearly were for the England game but perhaps got ahead of ourselves preparing for Wales and switched off too easily.

    Does the cancelled France game mean we’re going into this rested and raring to go or undercooked?

    1. Are we physical enough and are we mentally ready are intrinsic to each other.
      In the past Ireland have put the screws on, played their ball retention game and waited for us to implode and gift them scores, then we’ve had to chase the game which plays into that even more.

      It doesn’t have to be that way, but of course it’s easy to say that from the sidelines.

      We’re going to beat them some time. No reason not to be this Sunday.

      1. Looking at Irish line up, their pack does look very strong with lots of impact on bench in Porter, Baird and Conan.

        We’re going to have to get all the little details right to hang in there. I’m not too confident tbh I can’t see where the story is going to change up front.

      2. Yes but then you thought Hoggy was injured!

        Come on pal, cheer up. Think it’ll be a cracker and you never know.

  6. I have 2 concerns for this game. Firstly the Irish management are taking us seriously and are under a bit of pressure. As the likes of POC and Best have said in recent interviews they knew in recent years if their forwards performed they would dominate us and they are not so sure about that any more.

    The other concern is we are missing Zander. I would say he has been key to our improved forward performance although the tight 5 have all been good. Hes still young for a tighthead but has a good engine and a robust edge. Hoping that his replacements have a good game. The last thing we need will be our scrums going backwards.

    1. Cheer up. Nel’s good.
      It’ll be competitive….

      We know what they’ll do. Weather the storm and get stuck in.

  7. Quite surprised Murray isn’t starting, for all his form has stuttered in recent years him and Sexton still have a tendency to turn up and take control against Scotland.

    Their pack is massive, hopefully Skinner is on the bench.

  8. Baird has phenomenal speed for a forward and is dangerous if let loose.Bit young yet and inexperienced. The choice of Burns on the bench is a big plus for Scotland

  9. Team Prediction

    Stuart Hogg – Sean Maitland – Chris Harris – Sam Johnson – Duhan Van Der Merwe – Finn Russell – Ali Price – Matt Fagerson – Hamish Watson – Jamie Ritchie – Jonny Gray – Scott Cummings – Willem Nel – George Turner – Rory Sutherland

    Darcy Graham – James Lang – Scott Steele – Cornell Du Preez – Grant Gilchrist – Simon Berghan – David Cherry – Oli Kebble

    1. I have a bad feeling that the team list is a little late going up as there has been a late fitness test and Hogg has failed. This is just a pessimistic gut feeling not even a rumour…

      1. I wondered that too. Does the team have to be named today or can it be named tomorrow?

      2. Teams up, Hogg’s in it, phew!

        Looks like our strongest 15 taking into account unavailability of Fagerson and Redpath.

        Interesting bench mix, with no 10 cover but Jones and Graham alongside Steele.

        I’d have preferred Skinner to Gilchrist, but not much to grumble about. Our bench looks much weaker than theirs up front so I think we’ll struggle when front rows are replaced and in last quarter.

  10. Irish Team: Keenan; Earls, Ringrose, Henshaw, Lowe; Sexton, Gibson-Park; Healy, Herring, Furlong; Henderson, Ryan (capt); Beirne, Connors, Stander.

    Replacements: Kelleher, Kilcoyne, Porter, Baird, Conan, Murray, Burns, Larmour.

  11. Scotland Team: 15. Stuart Hogg 14. Sean Maitland 13. Chris Harris 12. Sam Johnson 11. Duhan van der Merwe 10. Finn Russell 9. Ali Price 1. Rory Sutherland 2. George Turner 3. WP Nel 4. Scott Cummings 5. Jonny Gray 6. Jamie Ritchie 7. Hamish Watson 8. Matt Fagerson

    16. David Cherry 17. Jamie Bhatti 18. Simon Berghan 19. Grant Gilchrist 20. Nick Haining 21. Scott Steele 22. Huw Jones 23. Darcy Graham

    No Skinner!!!

    1. Rob you are right. No Skinner. Toonie as usual throws in a curve ball. Absolute madness. I sometimes wonder about his thought process. Bizarre.

    2. Its about as good as a selection as we could have have hoped. I’d also have had Skinner instead of Gilchrst. Also, disappointed not to see Kebble on the bench. Is he injured?

    3. What happens if Russell is injured or carded or needs an HIA?

      I’ve never seen any of the other backs at 10.

      1. Hogg filled in at 10 at the end of the Wales game in the autumn when Hastings and Russell were both injured. Presume he’s 10 cover on Sunday.

  12. Agree with FF, our forward replacements look pretty modest in comparison to Ireland’s.

    1. Hadn’t noticed but Bhatti in for Kebble which is a shame as I reckon Kebble has taken to test rugby really well. Think he may be injured.

  13. Surely the omission of Skinner must be due to a training injury?
    Gilchrist selection ahead of is truly baffling. Don’t the coaching staff watch the English premiership games with SQ players? Skinner was superb last week.

  14. You would expect Gilchrist is a line out team leader and with the slight rule changes coming in this 6N and Beirne and Henderson who are monsters in that area it isn’t a great shock to see him on the bench.

    I wouldn’t have minded Skinner over Haining, Skinner doesn’t always play lock, more often plays back row so can see why it wasn’t a him v Gilchrist choice. Haining did seem to irk Ireland last year by all accounts and fluster them with his grunt which we can sometimes lack, all pretty close calls TBH.

    Good to see Sam J back, the option of an additional feed with quality always helps.

    ** Townsend has also made a lot of mention of Covid impacting selections and the need for protection of bubbles and players being picked local rather than a wider squad, time in camp will be a factor.

    1. It’s Skinners versatility that is so useful I feel. Sorry didn’t realise that he was back in Exeter team.

    2. Skinner was training with the squad already. If anything picking him would mean he wouldn’t have to leave the bubble and rejoin Exeter, which given a six day turnaround until Italy is riskier as he could pick something up and not test positive on return immediately, and then get a positive test when in camp. This is definitely not the reason Skinner has been left out.

      1. Skinner has though spent less time in camp than others because a larger extended squad could not be selected at the start, the squad was more condensed than usual for a 6N.

        I highly doubt Townsend would make such a point of making mention of things like this if they didn’t play some form of factor into team selection, that he does shows they do.

  15. A little surprised Skinner didn’t make it. Gilchrist will need to improve on what he has done before.

    Front row / replacements looks weaker. Think Bhatti still has alot of upside and potential.. if he is fit and ready. Berghan?…will have to improve on what he has done before. The replacements will really have to show up.

    Otherwise pretty much best we could put out there…considering injuries etc.

  16. No surprises in the starting XV.
    That’s a strong bench, too. Although like many might have picked Skinner over Gilchrist or Haining. My guess is time with the squad is the factor. His time will come.
    No normal fly-half cover (Hogg), but you cannot cover every position and it is only convention to have 9-10-other on the bench.

  17. Can understand why the safety net on the bench is there to cover Hoggy rather than Finn.

  18. I’m really surprised that Skinner isn’t on the bench; he’s been great for Exeter recently and never been convinced by Gilchrist, hope he proves what he can do on Sunday. Unfamiliarity with the squad/moves/tactics is the only reason I can see for leaving Skinner out; he brings the athleticism I would have thought would have been really useful against Ireland.
    Given that JvDW hasn’t been used, can see the logic with no 10 on the bench.
    Worried about our front row replacements, scrums could start going backwards, sideways and downwards when replacements come on.
    But hoping new found tenacity pays off – just need permission to watch at dinner preparation time on Mother’s Day!!

  19. It’s a solid consistent selection but people are whining about Skinner. Give over. I’d probably have picked him but Gilchrist will be fine.
    I think it will be a competitive game. Can we win? Well, we’re gonna beat them some time…

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Scottish Rugby News and Opinion