IT WAS a corner of Dublin that was once one of Scotland’s happiest away hunting grounds, but it is 17 years since they left Lansdowne Road with a win against their name.
Now revamped as the Aviva Stadium, the Scots once went 12 years from 1988 to 2000 unbeaten at the home of Irish rugby, but it has been a long time between victory pints of the black stuff south of the Liffey, with the only respite coming in 2010 when Dan Parks’ brilliant late penalty secured a rare win on Hibernian soil at the HQ of Gaelic sports Croke Park, while the state-of-the art venue for tonight’s match was being constructed.
A Rugby World Cup warm-up Test presents an altered dynamic – Scotland have beaten Ireland in the last two such meetings, both played at Murrayfield – but the home side start as heavy odds-on favourites this evening.
Now the second ranked team in world, the Six Nations champions come in off the back of an impressive win in Wales last weekend and will contain in their line-up a number of fringe men who know big performances are needed to force themselves into a settled, winning team.
Scotland will look to be positive but preventing the confident Irish from getting an early head of steam up will be crucial.
“Performance is important but playing well and getting some momentum is massively important for the squad leading into the World Cup,” said backs coach Duncan Hodge as the team set off for Ireland from Edinburgh Airport yesterday morning.
“The first 20 minutes against Ireland will be the first time we have been under severe pressure [this summer]. After the Six Nations a lot of the guys went back to their club and were put under pressure there.
“But there is a huge step up between the Pro12 and international rugby, so the boys will have to deal with that.
“However, we can’t hide behind experimentation. We must try to hit the ground running. We can’t afford to waste any time.
“However, we do expect mistakes to be made. We watched Ireland against Wales last week and there were a lot of mistakes made. That’s the nature of these pre-season games.”
This evening’s fixture will come as welcome relief to head coach Vern Cotter’s group after a gruelling two-month training camp.
“We’re excited,” said Hodge. “We’ve got 47 players who have worked really hard these last two months and are desperate to build to the World Cup.
“It’s great that we’ve had eight weeks with the players and been able to get some messages across. But, ultimately, games are what you measure yourself on and that’s where you can fine-tune your coaching and provide the players with some focus.”
The fear of picking up injuries is natural and Hodge added: “With only two professional teams we don’t have massive resources, say compared to Ireland with the four competitive sides there.
“You don’t want to pick up injuries but occasionally they do happen along the way and then give chances to other people, so it can be a double-edged sword.”