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
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.
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?
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:
W L L L L L W L W L
Most recent meeting at Murrayfield:
Scotland 13 – 22 Ireland
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)
- 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)
- 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.