IAIN Morrison analyses where Scotland’s best chances lie in their opening Six Nations clash in Dublin
Bully the breakdown
Former Ireland second row Neil Francis once wrote a nice piece about how he caught a ball, went to deck and laid it back beautifully. It was textbook stuff, only the Scots ripped up the page and trampled all over it – and him. Ireland now make a dog’s dinner of the opposition breakdown and Scotland must commit numbers. Ireland like to play with a rhythm, which is best interrupted at source.
Dominate the set piece
In last season’s meeting of the sides at Murrayfield, the scrum and lineout kept Scotland in the game in a hopelessly one-sided first 40 minutes. The Scots earned several get-out-of-the-22 cards by winning penalties at the set scrum, where Ryan Grant, Ross Ford and Geoff Cross held the whip hand. They also poached five Irish throws during the match, which went some way to stopping the green tide that threatened to engulf them.
Tackle around the ankles
That was what everyone did to Sean O’Brien last season, especially Wales, and much of his imposing threat was nullified. No one can run without their legs. Line speed is the key so that Scottish defenders can catch Irish carriers before they have worked up a decent head of steam. Tackle low and let the next man worry about the ball rather than go high and risk getting bumped off, certainly against the big runners.
Duncan Weir and Stuart Hogg both kick long but they must do so at the right time when no one is home or, at least, when Rob Kearney is marshalling the backfield on his own. Weir needs to mix up his kicking game with diagonal kicks, high balls, chips in behind the rushing defensive line and even try the odd banana kick (© Carlos Spencer) to the “wrong” corner if the wing has been pulled out of position.
Use the bench
The Scottish substitutes look a useful lot – from Richie Gray through to Chris Cusiter and on to Johnnie Beattie, who scored a beauty of a try four years ago in Croke Park as the Scots breakaways comprehensively outplayed and outfought their Irish counterparts. Matt Scott, another sub, is hopelessly short of game time but, if the scores are close going into the final quarter, he and the rest of the Scottish bench should make their presence felt.