HEAD coach Scott Johnson has told the Scotland players to expect an Irish onslaught in Dublin with more punch than the one they survived at Murrayfield last year.
The Scots, who kick off their RBS Six Nations campaign at the Aviva Stadium today, barely got a touch of the ball in a bruising first-half battle in Edinburgh in 2013 as Ireland had 78 per cent of the possession and 80 per cent of the territory. Yet they failed to take their chances and Scotland somehow notched up an unlikely 12-8 win, courtesy of four Greig Laidlaw penalties. The sides now meet again in their opening championship clash and Johnson believes the hosts will not be so wasteful with their openings this time.
Reflecting on last year’s game, the Australian said: “I don’t believe in torturing myself and that was a torturous day at the office. I don’t think we can do the same again as we did that day.
“They will come out swinging at us so we need to understand that we have to be competitive in both field position and quality of possession. We know this and are not running away from that fact. If it goes down that road, it will be a hard day at the office for us.”
Johnson is gearing up for his final five matches as Scotland coach before handing over to Vern Cotter in the summer and concentrating on director of rugby duties. Johnson believes he will leave a side that is now at least able to go toe-to-toe with Northern Hemisphere rivals.
“We are still growing,” said Johnson after making four changes to the side which lost 21-15 to Australia in November. “The nucleus of this team will be much better in two years’ time. They will be strong and much more experienced. So there is a lot of growth in this team still to be done, but I am happy that we have got a lot of competition. I have said all along that I want it to be hard to pick a national team and I can honestly say this was a difficult one for us to decide on. We had a lot of names on the table for certain areas.
“That’s a good thing for Scotland. This is a competition that we need and we want to be competitive in. If we are competitive and get some scoreboard pressure, then it’s good news for us, because every reporter right now is asking every other coach ‘Do you expect to beat Scotland?’ ”
The Scots will face Brian O’Driscoll for the final time with the legendary Irish centre due to retire at end of the season. He will break Ireland’s all-time caps record by earning his 129th today. The 35-year-old Leinster three-quarter is already Ireland’s all-time leading try-scorer with 46, and will no doubt be hunting 50 before he hangs up his boots.
“Brian’s been almost effervescent really, there’s a real spring in his step,” warned new Ireland coach Joe Schmidt. “We hope that factors on to the field on Sunday. He’s pretty understated on the fact he will be Ireland’s most-capped Test player. I know to him every one of those caps is incredibly special. He will be 100 per cent ready by Sunday.”