Stuart Hogg’s “lethal” counter-attacking will undo Ireland unless they shut the Scotland full-back down at source, according to Les Kiss.
Assistant coach Kiss believes Ireland must guard against Scotland’s “dangerous” back three through tactical accuracy in the RBS Six Nations opener in Dublin on Sunday. Glasgow’s livewire full-back Hogg can also operate as an auxiliary playmaker joining Scotland’s backline, leaving Kiss in no doubt Ireland must be “cute” to deny him time and space on the ball.
“Their whole back three is dangerous, and Hogg is back into form,” said Kiss. “We know he’s a very dangerous player, particularly when he changes the direction of the game or if you kick loosely to him, because his counter-attack is lethal.
“And, when you’ve got Sean Lamont and Sean Maitland working off him, it makes him even more lethal. So there are some challenges there, but the one smart thing they do have, Hogg can also kick the ball long. So if you over-commit on kick chase and they suddenly kick at you, you’re under pressure.
“The back three is a deadly mix there, but also very smart, so we just have to be very cute about how we play them.”
Hogg may be a danger, but Kiss feels Ireland boast one of the world’s pre-eminent No 15s in Rob Kearney. “Under the high ball he’s probably one of the best in the world, and his running game is in fine fettle,” said Kiss. “One of the keys is that he’s making great last-ditch tackles in defence and making good decisions at the back. I think he’s in a good place and hopefully that continues for him.”
Joe Schmidt’s Ireland side must do without bullish openside flanker Sean O’Brien, with Ulster’s Chris Henry primed to step in. Expecting Scotland to create troublesome skirmishes at the breakdown, Kiss also challenged Ireland to stay on the right side of the officials over the ball.
“Their back row is relentless at how they go at the game: they will be trying to spoil us,” said Kiss. “So we have a huge battle in that area, and one of the key things there will be discipline. Referees are looking for accuracy at the breakdown and around the tackle area. It’s important we maintain the quality of work we had in November, [when] our discipline and accuracy was good.
“We need to stay in that place because if you’re giving penalties away [Greig] Laidlaw can kick them from anywhere.”
Laidlaw’s opposite number, Conor Murray, insists there is still a fierce battle for Ireland’s Six Nations scrum-half berth despite Eoin Reddan’s calf strain.
Leinster half-back Reddan was rated “highly doubtful” for the opener by team manager Michael Kearney. Coach Joe Schmidt has recalled Isaac Boss into his squad, and also has Connacht’s Kieran Marmion available. Should Reddan miss out, Murray will be expected to start on Sunday, but the Munster half-back rejected any notion of an easy passage into the No 9 shirt.
Scotching talk Reddan’s injury would clear the way for him to start, Murray said: “No, definitely not, it’s exactly the same pressure as before. Bossy’s there and Kieran Marmion is knocking around as well so, to be honest, I’m just trying to focus on my own game and making sure I’m as sharp as I can be so I’m ready to go if I get the nod. There are three or four players vying for each position”
Murray expects Laidlaw to set the tempo in Dublin. He said: “I rate him highly as a player, he’s the focal point of their team, he drives a lot of their plays. I’ve played against him quite a bit against Edinburgh and a couple of times against Scotland. We’d like to think we know a bit about him but that doesn’t make it any easier to stop him.”
THE SCOTSMAN RUGBY SHOW IN ASSOCIATION WITH GINGER GROUSE