Allan Dell: Scots need head and heart for Irish battle

Scotland's Allan Dell has played enough Pro12 teams to expect smart, physical play from Irelands forwards. Picture: Gary Hutchison/SNS

Scotland's Allan Dell has played enough Pro12 teams to expect smart, physical play from Irelands forwards. Picture: Gary Hutchison/SNS

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Allan Dell may still be an international novice but he has played enough Irish teams to know that Scotland’s forwards must be prepared for a battle of wits as much as brawn on Saturday.

The 24-year-old Edinburgh loosehead prop is likely to win his fourth cap when Scotland open the Six Nations at home to Ireland as he continues to deputise for injured club-mate Alasdair Dickinson.

South Africa-born Dell played all three autumn Tests and, while he has never faced Ireland at Test level, he has come up against the provinces in the Pro12 enough to have a rough idea of what to expect in a couple of days.

“Irish packs are smart, physical and I wouldn’t say they cheat but they push the boundaries a lot – obviously that can be called intelligent,” said Dell with a smile.

“So, we just need to be awake and aware of what is going to happen because you know that they are going to try and hold you round the ruck and hold you down – just all those little smart things that try to get you off your game.”

Scotland will hope to get on the right side of French referee Romain Poite from the start and Dell added: “We need to match them physically and we need to be smart and see what they are doing.”

Dell is under no illusions about the fact running out for a Six Nations match comes with a much greater frisson of significance than a November Test.

“It’s an historic competition so the pressure externally and individually – as a team and as individuals – is a lot higher,” he said. “You are expecting the man next to you to up his game because you need to step up a little when you get to this level.

“I’m just expecting teams to be a little more accurate, because I think in November you obviously have your mindset of how you want to take a team forward but you also experiment different things, whereas coming into this competition if you make one mistake and lose a game then you are out the running.”

If selected, Dell is likely to be up against a man of his same age in the shape of young Leinster tighthead Tadhg Furlong, who will be winning his 12th Irish cap on Saturday.

“I don’t think I’ve actually ever played against him. I’ve only seen one game of his – the All Blacks game [in Chicago last autumn, when Ireland famously won 40-29 to end New Zealand’s run of 18 wins] which is where I think everyone first really took notice of him. But from the clips I’ve watched this week he’s a strong man, a good player, good around the park, a modern-day prop. So, from the few little clips I’ve seen, people aren’t wrong putting him in with a shout for the Lions. Hopefully, if I’m announced in the squad [for Saturday] I can try and change that.”

Dell may well be leaning once again on the experience of his Edinburgh team-mate Ross Ford, the veteran hooker, in Saturday’s fierce front-row showdown.

“He won is 100th cap when I won my first one [against Australia], so that just shows how much experience a man like that has got,” he noted.

“He’s a brilliant player to go with that experience so having him next to you is just really relaxing. Also playing with him at club level, you know that if you are in a bit of trouble you can rely on him to help get you out of it.

“Ross doesn’t say much. If he does say something to you then you know you have made a mistake. But during the week we train through certain scenarios and so as long as you do what you have done during the week you know you’ll survive.”

If Scotland can hold their own in the forward battle with their grizzled foes in green, then there is confidence that the home side have the talent behind the scrum to hurt Ireland.

Saracens winger Sean Maitland certainly feels there is much to look forward to in the next couple of months.

“This is the strongest Scotland squad I have ever been involved with,” he said. “I’m genuinely excited by what we could potentially achieve.

“I think we’ve got that strength and depth that we were perhaps lacking in the last few years.

“For sure, I get really excited when I see the names in our backline, it’s world class. We have a strong pack of forwards too, so we want to play our own game and not get worried about our opponents. Let them worry about us.

“We’ve played with each other for a few years now and I think we’re used to playing with each other now – we have built up relationships and an understanding. That’s probably a massive factor too.”

One of the most intriguing selections when coach Vern Cotter names his team at lunchtime today will be which centre pairing he opts for and Maitland believes that conundrum illustrates the strong position Scotland are in going into this year’s tournament.

“There is so much strength and depth now and you need that for competition. It brings the best out in people,” said the former Glasgow man, who is looking forward to a European Champions Cup quarter-final clash with his old club come April.

“We [Scotland] are playing with a lot of confidence at the moment,” he added. “The Glasgow boys especially given what they’ve done in Europe.

“We’ve been confident in the past but without really backing it up. Now we have so many guys with the X-factor, so many game-changers.

“We know how we want to play, we’ve established that. We know the clarity and the detail, we’re not starting from scratch anymore, we’re coming in and picking up from where we left off.”

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