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Scotland v Ireland: Six Nations 2023, Match Preview pt II – head to heads

Scotland and Ireland have each made 3 changes to their respective starting XVs compared to their lineups for the opening round of the Six Nations. Lions’ tightheads have slotted back in for both sides (Zander Fagerson for WP Nel and Tadhg Furlong for Finlay Bealham), while suspension and injury respectively have seen second rows needing to be replaced (Jonny Gray in for Grant Gilchrist and Iain Henderson for Tadhg Beirne).

The dark blues’ other change has been to introduce Jack Dempsey for Luke Crosbie (necessitating a shuffling round of shirt numbers among the back row) while the visitors have brought in Bundee Aki for Stuart McCloskey in the centres.

2 changes to Scotland starting XV from last Test (v France)

  • 5 – J. Gray for Gilchrist [=]
  • 8/7/6 – Dempsey for Wason with Ritchie to 7 and M. Fagerson to 6 [=]

BACK 3 – EVEN

STUART HOGG
Kyle Steyn
DUHAN VAN DER MERWE

15
14
11

Hugo Keenan
Mack Hansen
James Lowe

49 Tries 22
100kg Average weight 96kg
133 Total caps 58
29.2 Average age 27.5

4th time this unit has started together for Scotland

This is a a high quality group of players capable of creating and scoring outstanding tries. If the forecast weather pans out however, these six players could be reduced to a battle of who can kick furthest and who is most secure under the high ball.

While the Scots will be more than comfortable with their kicking game, the Irish will back themselves in an aerial contest. So, adjusting for the weather, if it’s minging then advantage Ireland. Pray for clear weather, Scotland fans…


CENTRES – ADVANTAGE SCOTLAND

Huw Jones
Sione Tuipulotu

13
12

Garry Ringrose
BUNDEE AKI

17 Tries 23
102kg Average weight 98kg
48 Total caps 93
27.7 Average age 30.4

4th time this unit has started together for Scotland

Ireland have had to mix and match their centre pairings in this tournament – three different duos so far and if Robbie Henshaw’s return from the bench goes well, there is a reasonable chance they will revert to his tried and tested partnership with Garry Ringrose for Round 5.

While Huwipulotu doesn’t have the same history behind it, this is now clearly the go to in midfield for Scotland. There have been periods when the dark blues have bypassed one or other of their centres in attack and expected Finn Russell to do it all when it comes to distribution. Now, Sione Tuipulotu and Huw Jones are absolutely central to the passing game required to unlock opposition defences.


HALF BACKS – ADVANTAGE IRELAND

FINN RUSSELL
Ben White

10
9

JOHNNY SEXTON
CONOR MURRAY

11 Tries 30
90kg Average weight 92kg
80 Total caps 214
27.6 Average age 35.8

4th time this unit has started together for Scotland

Johnny Sexton rarely loses to Scottish stand offs. Finn Russell will be hoping that this attempt is lucky number seven after six previous losses when starting for club and country against the veteran (37 & 2/3rds!) Irish maestro.

The 10s will be looking for big performances from their respective scrum halves. Conor Murray has all the experience from a dozen years at they very top level but Ben White can lay claim to being one of the break out players of this Six Nations. He is keeping 2021 Lion, Ali Price, on the bench and the London Irish 9s’ calmness and solid fundamentals are proving to to be a good foil for Russell.


FRONT ROW – ADVANTAGE IRELAND

Pierre Schoeman
George Turner
ZANDER FAGERSON

1
2
3

ANDREW PORTER
Dan Sheehan
TADHG FURLONG

350kg Weight 349kg
13 Tries 12
108 Total caps 129
28.8 Average age 27.3

8th time this unit has started together for Scotland

Gregor Townsend’s favoured prop pairing (15 starts together at 1 and 3 since Pierre Schoeman’s debut 20 matches ago) haven’t had a perfect time at the setpiece but they are capable of bringing plenty of power at scrum time – they just need to paint the pictures the ref wants to see.

Tadgh Furlong would usually be an easy pick to boss the front row battle all around the pitch. He will be playing his first game of 2023 though. Scotland fans will be hoping the two time Lion is rusty and not at his dominating best.


SECOND ROW – EVEN

RICHIE GRAY
Jonny Gray

4
5

IAIN HENDERSON
James Ryan

245kg Weight 231kg
7 Tries 10
147 Total caps 122
31.3 Average age 28.9

22nd time this unit has started together for Scotland

Between 2014 and 2017, the Gray brothers were pretty much an automatic selection in the boiler room for Scotland but there has been a six year wait to see them reunited as starters. While many may be disappointed by the siblings’ increasingly sensible haircuts, in terms of actual rugby they remain a classy pairing who complement each other’s style.

The Scottish duo will require every last bit of their ferocious work rates to keep up with the energy levels of Ireland’s second rows. The missing Tadhg Beirne is a big loss for the visitors though when it comes to their work at the breakdown.


BACK ROW – ADVANTAGE IRELAND

Matt Fagerson
Jamie Ritchie (c)
Jack Dempsey

6
7
8

PETER O’MAHONY
Josh van der Flier
Caelan Doris

333kg Weight 316kg
3 Tries 16
77 Total caps 166
26.7 Average age 29.4

2nd time this unit has started together for Scotland

At club level, Glasgow have moved Matt Fagerson to flanker to accommodate Jack Dempsey in the number 8 shirt on 11 occasions so far. They’ve tended to round out their back row with 127kg Sione Vailanu though, so not quite the same style of scavenging, spoiling play that Jamie Ritchie will bring to the openside’s role!

For so many Scotland / Ireland clashes the battle of the back rows – and in particular their impact at the breakdown – has been a microcosm of the overall contest. In 2020, the Scots had their best chance in years of a win in Dublin but lost 8 of their own rucks (with a number of these coming in Ireland’s 22) while the Irish were turned over just once as they eked out the victory.

There is no question that each member of the Scottish breakaway trio is a talented player, among the best the dark blues have been able to call upon in the pro era. Their opponents boast two players who are world class standard though, as well as a veteran who is also in that bracket in the specific areas of the lineout and shithousery.


FORWARD REPLACEMENTS – ADVANTAGE IRELAND

Fraser Brown
Jamie Bhatti
Simon Berghan
Scott Cummings

HAMISH WATSON

16
17
18
19
20

RONAN KELLEHER
CIAN HEALY
Tom O’Toole
Ryan Baird
JACK CONAN

569kg Weight 571kg
14 Tries 20
198 Total caps 167
30.6 Average age 27.9

Ireland are so replete with B&I Lions that they can afford to leave 4 of them on the bench. Mind you, Scotland are not far off a similar situation. Only half of their 2021 Lions will start at Murrayfield. Toony’s current best lineup has seen Hamish Watson, Ali Price and Chris Harris benched, with Rory Sutherland unable to even make the matchday squad.


BACK REPLACEMENTS – ADVANTAGE IRELAND

ALI PRICE
Blair Kinghorn

CHRIS HARRIS

21
22
23

Jamison Gibson-Park
Ross Byrne
ROBBIE HENSHAW

19 Tries 12
95kg Average weight 90kg
141 Total caps 101
29.4 Average age 29.6

Ireland fans will be keen to see Jamison Gibson-Park back in action. The former Blues and Hurricanes’ player seems to have been a crucial component in the step up to world number 1 and the consistency of performance his side have delivered as the current World Cup cycle has progressed.

There are a couple of Lions among the Scottish subs but it’s Blair Kinghorn who might be the most important player. His flexibility on where he can fit in allows for plenty of options and he has made some really positive plays when he has been involved so far in the tournament.

(Players in BLOCK CAPITALS have been selected to tour with the B&I Lions)


Miscellany

–  On the day that he makes his 100th appearance for Scotland, Stuart Hogg will also play his 50th home match for the national side (47 at Murrayfield, 2 at Rugby Park and 1 at Pittodrie).

– This will be the 300th full capped international played by Scotland’s Mens’ team at Murrayfield. Their very first was a 14 – 11 win over England in March 1925.

– 67% of Richie Gray’s Test tries have been scored against Ireland. That’s only 2 tries – but still!

– This is the heaviest pack (928kg) and starting XV (1,613kg) selected for Scotland during the Townsend era.

– And finally, the stat that gets dragged out every time a Scottish side takes on Johnny Sexton – and will continue to do so until one of them finally beats him or he retires, which currently looks the likelier option…Sexton has played 37 times against Scotland, Edinburgh, Glasgow and the Borders and has lost on just 6 occasions. It’s 4,741 days (or just shy of 12 years if you prefer) since the stand off last tasted defeat against a Scottish team in a competitive game and he’s on a 23-match winning streak against those sides.


Missed part 1? Check it out here. Featuring Scotland’s history with the Triple Crown; Ireland scouting report; and Scotland’s record with Mr Pearce as referee.

32 Responses

  1. Surprised at the backrow weights..always thought Scotland were outsized in this department.

  2. Dunno what the ‘Advantages’ are based on …but seems inconsistent.
    The real advantage for Ireland imo is their overall high level consistency and sum of parts. Individually Id say there is little difference..Irelands forwards better Scotlands backs better.

  3. Anyone else feel sorry for Italy in their game? Felt like they got nothing from the ref: couple of in the air tackles that weren’t looked at, Wales offside constantly, calling advantage over at a penalty when there was clearly no advantage from the kick.

    On a different note, the forearm fend by Bruno for his yellow: to me it looked like there was going to be a head on head collision if he hadn’t done that, which would have been a straight red for the welsh prop. Should the ref take position of the tackler into account? Seems like mitigation is taken into account when looking at high tackles but nothing going the other way. Just a thought.

    1. Agreed. Rugby becomes a joke when turgid, cynical play wins matches while creativity, speed and skill gets little reward. WR should be ashamed of their head in the sand attitude to improvements which would make the game more entertaining.

      1. Thought Italy were poor considering all the recent hype they have received. Looked like the Italy of old today.

      2. While Italy could of done better, the ref certainly played a factor. 17 penalties from Wales and not a single warning (never mind a card) according to Italy HC. Wales could cheat and disrupt the ball with ease.

  4. Really interesting to see the Irish ill-feeling on social. Reputable Twitter accounts screenshotting our beloved troll Neil? They’re rattled.

    Which I don’t get. It’s obvious why we don’t like them – their team keeps injuring our best players, any reasonable Irish fan would admit they have the worst media in rugby, and most importantly, they keep beating us.

    But why are they so triggered by Scotland? The only thing I can think is that while they’re admired and respected, they aren’t loved. Find me a single neutral who doesn’t want Scotland to win tomorrow. There’s joy in Scotland’s play, where Ireland play with a tediously effective sense of obligation.

    The remind me of that Michael Sheen speech in the Damned United. They’ll win tomorrow, but they’ll leave hating us more.

    1. I don’t think they are rattled…if anything ..like one of their players hinted at….they believe they are facing many familiar faces that they consistently beat at URC and Euro club level.
      We also haven’t shown yet that we won’t cough the ball up easily.

      1. Neil – check the blog’s Twitter. Your comment from the other day has been picked up.

        RuggersB – obviously the Irish team aren’t rattled, as you say they have supreme confidence of winning and rightly so. The Irish rentagobs, though, are all over the shop, with the back-in-the-box, shut-up, arrogant-scots dog manure. . Again, not the players,who are broadly fine, or the vast majority of fans, who I love. But there’s a group at all levels of the media, who are losing their minds, not because people think Scotland will win, but because people want them to.

        I just find it psychologically interesting. They’ve got everything they ever wanted, and they’re miserable.

      2. Ah brilliant, i don’t usually check twitter so thanks for telling me, had a good laugh (Not the first time today).

        The comment i made was just an exaggeration of what that irish pundit said about them doing a job on us and putting us back in our box. Maybe the two countries part of the wind-up admittedly went too far. (Along with the Mick Hansen).

        Seems at least half of them took it in good humour as was intended.

      3. Angerine …Yeah I know what you mean…Ireland, like every nation, have their share of idiot fans, pundits and media. They do seem to have their panties all bunched up by Scotland and many who don’t share the love of their team. It’s funny that they are supporters of the team ranked 1 in the world yet they are calling the 5th placed team and their followers ‘arrogant’….laughable.
        They are the favorites to win the match….nobody really thinks otherwise.. yet that isn’t enough…tad insecure perhaps?

      4. I have been called much worse than ‘arrogant’.

        I would draw the line at being called ‘Irish’. That is below the belt.

  5. Exhibition rugby from France. Best line of the day came from my wife, “Would have been appropriate had the final score been 10-66”.

    1. The Netflix documentary is going to be some watch, although England haven’t given the filmmakers the agreed access. Wise choice for England in hindsight.

  6. This team will score against anyone including Ireland. Is Nel injured? No matter, we have more than a chance. This is Scotland v Ireland not a club game and the Irish are still pissy about the 90s.

  7. Let’s rejoice in that heavier pack and the ability to do some bullying of our own. Despite it being forced by injury, this is the strongest possible starting eight.

  8. Nerves building here now! Overall happy with back row. Just have a slight concern re Dempsey.

    I just hope he keeps his discipline and accuracy. Don’t want a red to ruin the spectacle He often appears overly hyped and excitable
    Have a good feeling for hoggy and Jones !
    Cmon Scotland. On a unrelated point the ref for Italy yesterday very under par

  9. Discipline!!!….keep our 15 on the park for the entire match…yet be aggressive…then we’ll compete and see…..

  10. Do we have a full back. Certainly not in defense we dont. Missing in action. Kinghorn on please

    1. This might be the most ridiculous post I have ever seen on this website.

      Hogg hasn’t done a single thing wrong in the first half – the fullback can’t cover everybody….

      1. Excuse me, do not call my post ridiculous, I don’t mind you having a different opinion but keep it civil. That will be why he was removed from the pitch in the second half. At least Toony made a difficult call and removed him. His day was over.

      2. Quite right Tam , no need , Furthermore we do not need the full back to cover everybody Fraser.

        That is the problem – he is everywhere ! All we need is him to be where he is meant to be when he is meant to be :)

  11. sadly we have been outplayed by a better team – they’ve snubbed out our attack, have posed a threat and made fewer errors

    1. Ireland are the best team in the world. It’s a tough one to take as I think we had a great chance to win but the second Irish try really seemed to take the wind out of our sails. Agree with Barclay, we managed the game poorly – overplaying in our own half too often and going wide too early. We couldn’t quite live with the Irish physicality for the whole game and when our intensity dropped we were done.

      I’ll be very surprised if Ireland don’t win very well against England and they’ll finish off one TBP shy of a perfect grand slam. Quite a feat for what is quite a team and surely now the RWC favourites.

  12. Our problem has been the same throughout …whether we have won or lost ..we are a 40min team.
    Far too much sloppy play for us in that 2nd half …it gave Ireland the ascendancy when they needed it. Ireland are what they say on the tin….no surprises…you need to be switched on for the 80 against them and we seem incapable of doing that.
    We are a bit better than England Wales & Italy….and not as good as Ireland and France.
    Both Ireland and France seem have virtually 2 x15 teams to select from.. we have one. Their bench players mean there is no drop off at all. Our scrum collapsed as soon as our 1st choice left the field. Russell fell apart under pressure.
    The RWC should be seen as a developmental opportunity for us…because we have no chance of progressing in our group.

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