OVER THE LAST five or six years, from looking at the team-sheets, you would back Ireland to beat Scotland but it hasn’t always worked out that way.
With Joe Schmidt coming in, it adds a bit more excitement to the usual Six Nations hype. We saw the best and worst of Ireland in the space of two weeks during the November Series. They were poor against Australia and magnificent for 81 minutes against New Zealand. If they can reproduce even 80% of what they threw at the All Blacks they will do a job on Scotland.
The Scots have no recognised seven in there and that is why the selection of the scavenging Chris Henry at openside may prove crucial. Ireland need to win the breakdown tomorrow and with Henry at his best they could dominate.
Everyone in the Ireland XV is pretty much in there on form. I think we need to get used to the mind-set change within the Ireland set-up. All of Schmidt’s talk before the Six Nations was about building a squad and a few of his selections — Luke Marshall, Chris Henry and Andrew Trimble — have backed that up. Ultimately we are on a roadtrip to the World Cup next year. If Schmidt could do to Ireland what he did for Leinster and build a squad of 30 guys he can call on, that would be fantastic.
There certainly seems to be a deeper pool of players to call upon. It is great that, while Tommy Bowe and Keith Earls are out injured, we are still debating what wingers should start. Fergus McFadden has probably come back from injury too late but his ability to cover the positions means he is on the bench.
Conversely, McFadden’s inclusion there was bad news for Ian Madigan but you can’t argue with his selection on the bench. Is it the most exciting Ireland bench? No but Schmidt often makes horses for courses selections and he has done that here. The last time we played Scotland we were barely pulling a team together because of all our injuries so it is good to have debates over positions this time around.
Gordon D’Arcy was excellent against the All Blacks and is unfortunate to miss out but Marshall tore the Scottish defence apart last year. While many will expect D’Arcy and Luke Fitzgerald to be in with a good shout of starting against Wales, it would be hard for Schmidt to drop a player who had a dynamite game. Saying that, he often did that during his time at Leinster.
Luke Marshall looked impressive against the Scots last season. INPHO/Dan Sheridan
The Scottish back three of Sean Maitland, Stuart Hogg and sean Lamont will be their biggest threat. If you give them the ball and the opportunity, you will rue it. They know how to score tries.
Today is all about Ireland inflicting their game on Scotland and dominating when it comes to the basics. I don’t think Schmidt will allow complacency from his players and all the lads, from whatever province, are enjoying the discipline and attention to detail he has imposed on the squad.
England slip up
The England and France match last night was great to watch. You could not say England threw it away but they did slip back and allow France to play their way back into the game. It was certainly a higher standard of rugby to the Wales v Italy game earlier in the day.
Italy have never replaced Diego Dominguez as a goal-kicker. I was looking at their game thinking ‘Is there somebody, anybody for the love of God, that can kick the ball over the bar for them?’ Wales were fortunate to get the win but I would expect them to raise their game for Ireland next week.
Like rugby? Follow TheScore.ie’s dedicated Twitter account @rugby_ie >