Iain Morrison on what to look for in the final Six Nations match in Dublin.
The front row battle
Cian Healy may have been a Lions player in Australia but Jack McGrath has been one of the finds of the season for Ireland and more than justifies his place on the loosehead. He will test WP Nel although you fancy Alasdair Dickinson should have a slight edge over Mike Ross on the opposite side of the scrum. The Irish veteran has a lot of miles on the clock but experience counts for props like no other position on the field. Scotland’s set scrum has bossed Italy and France and the visitors need the same in Dublin if they are to get a toe hold in this game.
The blindside flanker is normally a big ball carrier and while John Barclay does the job very well, he does the job very well for someone who is 6’ 1” tall and just 16 stone, a featherweight in comparison with some of the big breakaways out there like Irish duo Jamie Heaslip and CJ Stander. Scotland have already lost one big carrier in Jonny Gray and instead of playing Josh Strauss, who carried brilliantly against France, at number eight Vern Cotter has selected Ryan Wilson to “keep things fresh” as he explained in Thursday’s press conference. It makes no sense to me, unless Strauss is carrying an injury he doesn’t want the Irish to know about.
The Irish have pedigree here, the one clear and obvious advantage they have over the Scots. Greig Laidlaw has been playing well but Conor Murray boasts a much better running game to sit alongside his tactical kicking and distribution. Sexton has been below his best this season but, even allowing for the dip in form, his mastery of option taking and his execution is some way ahead of Weir’s. So far Scotland have slowed opposition ruck ball to a stately 4.3 seconds thanks to flankers Johns Barclay and Hardie, and they need to do so again because if the Irish forwards get on the front foot the experienced home halfbacks will run this show.
Both sides are pretty disciplined with the Scots conceding 35 while winning 43 penalties with that discrepancy down to their dominance at the set scrum. Ireland are usually well behaved but when France had them on the rack and turned the screws the Irish were happy, like New Zealand, to concede three rather than five/seven points. But Scotland have to boss them up front first.
A Moment of Magic
The twin fullbacks Simon Zebo and Stuart Hogg are in competition for the best attacking fifteen in the northern hemisphere and, on present form, the Scot is leading the race. Ireland are missing a good few familiar faces and Scotland’s fast men will back themselves if they get some go-forward ball. Jared Payne is a better defender than he is an attacker at thirteen. Scotland’s back three look to have an edge with the ball in hand so Ireland, naturally, will hoist it high into the Dublin sky and see how good Tim Visser and Hogg are in the air?
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