Ireland will be itching to hit back to winning ways when taking on Scotland at Murrayfield in Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations clash.
Here, Press Association Sport examines five key talking points ahead of the Edinburgh encounter.
Scotland aiming to fire Ireland a World Cup warning shot
Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw had no qualms admitting Gregor Townsend’s men are fully aware of the wider significance of Saturday’s Six Nations clash with Ireland. Scotland will open their 2019 World Cup campaign by facing Ireland again, in Yokohama City on Sunday, September 22. The standard refrain when asked if Saturday’s Six Nations match could colour the autumn’s World Cup reprise would be for a top star to suggest their only focus would be this weekend. How refreshing then to hear Laidlaw concede that a Scottish victory now would certainly strike a blow ahead of Japan 2019. “We certainly won’t be thinking about it tomorrow, but it all helps,” said Laidlaw. Quite right too, hence plenty of extra intrigue in an already fascinating contest.
Ireland bristle at predictable barbs
Head coach Joe Schmidt responded with caustic words for his critics this week, who claim Ireland’s gameplan is limited and predictable. Ireland were accused by a number of pundits of lacking a Plan B in the wake of their comprehensive 32-20 home defeat by England. Schmidt was having none of it however, mounting a staunch defence of his regime – which has guided Ireland to second in the world rankings and three Six Nations titles in five years, including the 2018 Grand Slam. Ireland boast unprecedented success under Schmidt and yet the detractors still find ways to criticise the taskmaster Kiwi coach. “I would love to know how they characterise our Plan A,” said Schmidt, in a withering put-down to his critics. Touche.
Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton face rare pressure
The elements could prove decisive at a windswept Murrayfield
Scotland skipper Laidlaw admitted bad weather could dominate the game, should the elements turn nasty as anticipated. Scotland want to play with width and pace, exploiting their potent backline. But those ambitions will be tempered if high winds whip across the pitch. The Scots hope home-ground knowledge can help them sneak an edge against the Irish though, knowing the vagaries of the Murrayfield winds as they do. Ireland’s kicking game will have to improve markedly from the unusually inaccurate showing in defeat by England, should Schmidt’s men be able to hit back to winning ways.
Fringe men have big World Cup chance for Ireland
Lock Quinn Roux and centre Chris Farrell can advance their World Cup selection claims with strong showings in Scotland this weekend. Connacht second-row Roux has jumped into the starting line-up in the absence of Devin Toner due to ankle trouble. With Iain Henderson and Tadhg Beirne also missing, Ireland’s locking stocks appear almost threadbare. And yet James Ryan starts and Ultan Dillane is on the bench. Roux’s tight game got him the nod here over the galloping Dillane, and this is his big chance to prove he merits serious consideration for Ireland’s final 31-man World Cup squad.