Rugby: Greig Oliver says Irish will want more from Croke Park

IT might be stretching it to suggest a little part of the Ireland team chasing triple crown glory against Scotland in Dublin on Saturday is stamped "made in Caledonia".

Nevertheless, Greig Oliver, five times Scotland scrum half and with a cap against the All Blacks in Auckland sandwiched between two appearances in each of the 1987 and 1991 World Cups has to be recognised as a driving force behind the player who collected man-of-the-match honours when Ireland defeated Wales last weekend, Tomas O'Leary.

Now director of rugby at the Garryowen club in his wife Fiona's home city of Limerick, Oliver has found himself drawn into the Munster coaching set-up to put extra polish on the likes of O'Leary.

"Within the first month of arriving in Ireland three years ago I found myself working with Munster and Tomas.

"I know him pretty well and he is a great competitor who works especially hard on his game. His try-scoring performance against Wales came one match after he was particularly hard on himself which is typical Tomas.

"It is a big help to him that Peter Stringer (91 Irish scrum half caps and counting) is happy to pass on his experience and that, to an extent, is what Scotland will be up against.

"Ireland punch way above their weight in sport for the size of population and I put that down to the willingness of people to set aside rivalries whether it is one-on-one coaching or gaelic footballers backing rugby and vice versa.

"It certainly does Scotland few favours that this will probably be the last rugby match at Croke Park before returning to a re-built Lansdowne Road.

"All the Irish rugby team are aware of Croke Park's cultural significance as the headquarters of gaelic games. It's very dear to them and they'll want to take their leave from a place they feel privileged to have play at with a win."

Pride of place among the Irish threats as perceived by Oliver, who helped coach Scotland under-21s to a famous victory over English counterparts in 2005, is skipper Brian O'Driscoll who'll be gaining his 101st cap.

"O'Driscoll's kicking game has come on by 50 per cent recently due to sheer hard work," said Oliver. While O'Driscoll will be facing Scotland for the 12th time another whose career Oliver has followed closely, Jonny Sexton, will be making his debut in the fixture on his sixth Test appearance.

Sexton will be well known to the Murrayfield crowd who saw him land a huge drop-goal as Leinster defeated Leicester to lift last season's Heineken European Cup but Oliver goes back further.

"When I started coaching at Garryowen I remember Sexton controlling a game against us in the All Ireland league almost unbelievably well.

"Similarly, I was working at the Munster academy when Keith Earls, a Lion in South Africa last summer, came on the scene and from the start it was obvious he had an electricity, a spark about his running. Keith initially wanted to play centre but he is settling in on the wing all the time."

If this all sounds gloomy for Scotland then Oliver is much more inclined to side with the likes of national coach Declan Kidney who preaches caution than the rugby rank-and-file who are predicting a substantial Irish win. "Declan, very much a people person, is very good at keeping feet on the ground and not letting anybody get above themselves – that's the Munster way.

"If Scotland are to do well then they'll have to attack the Irish front row," he added, aware that in Ross Ford and Euan Murray there are two British Lions alongside the 44-times capped Allan Jacobsen.

"Also, there is a lot of respect in Ireland for Max Evans' running, Dan Parks' boot and the Scottish back row." This is an area Oliver also knows well having coached Johnny Beattie and John Barclay as well as centre Nick De Luca at Scotland age-group level.

And could the experience Hawick born and bred Oliver is currently gaining across the Irish Sea be transported home either at professional club level or in the national cause?

"I speak occasionally with Rob Moffat (Edinburgh's coach) and some people in Scotland have encouraged me to push myself forward when something comes up.

"But I'm enjoying life at Garryowen who were the first club in Ireland to have a synthetic pitch and an academy set-up while our opening league match against local rivals Shannon attracted a 5000 crowd.

"I'm also due to get more involved with Munster on the skills side of things but it's a case of never say never, I suppose, and this week it is a matter of dealing with the banter that is inevitably coming my way," said Oliver.

Scotland starting XV

15 Southwell (Stade Francais)

14 S Lamont (Scarlets)

13 De Luca (Edinburgh)

12 Morrison (Glasgow)

11 M Evans (Glasgow)

10 Parks (Glasgow)

9 Cusiter (c) (Glasgow)

1 Jacobsen (Edinburgh)

2 Ford (Edinburgh)

3 Murray (Northampton)

4 J Hamilton (Edinburgh)

5 Kellock (Glasgow)

6 Brown (Glasgow)

8 Beattie (Glasgow)

7 Barclay (Glasgow