Six Nations has been topsy-turvy affair - can Scotland add one last twist against Ireland?

Any win will do against our nemesis in Dublin and there should be reason for optimism

So we come to the last day of what has been an enjoyable but topsy-turvy Six Nations, with close matches and some surprising results.

None more so than at Twickenham last week when Marcus Smith’s last-minute drop goal deprived Ireland of the Triple Crown and their expected Grand Slam. England in the end deserved their victory, their best Six Nations result for several years. Yet Ireland were, one thinks, the victim of their coach Andy Farrell’s 6-2 bench selection. Losing their right wing and his replacement to injury meant that Jamison Gibson-Park was moved from scrum-half to the wing with Connor Murray taking over behind the scrum. Murray is still a fine player in the evening of his career, but Gibson-Park has been Ireland’s general and Ireland suffered from his move to the wing. Not surprisingly, Farrell has named a 5-3 bench for today.

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Scotland with a record of won two, lost two, have been a bit disappointing. It might so easily have been played four, won four, especially when you take the referee/TMO confused decision-making in the last minute against France. Italy are now a good team, desperately unlucky only to have drawn away to France the week before. Nevertheless I suspect most of us think we should have won in Rome. George Horne’s “try” was rightly struck off for obstruction; yet I think the try would have been scored even if there had been no obstruction. Still things having been uncomfortably close in Cardiff, our only clear and comfortable win was against England.

England showed last week that Ireland can be taken down.England showed last week that Ireland can be taken down.
England showed last week that Ireland can be taken down.

Only a starry-eyed optimist would say, “Scotland beat England, England beat Ireland, so Scotland should win this afternoon”. If only, but things don’t often work out like that. Any impartial observer must still judge that Ireland are the best team in the tournament. They may have been a bit shaky last week when their forwards came surprisingly second-best. But their record against Scotland in recent years and the memory of their comfortable win against us in the World Cup mean that they are hot favourites to win again and secure the Six Nations title today.

Nevertheless, one remains hopeful – and the hope is not unreasonable. If the Irish pack was strangely vulnerable against England, Scotland’s looks at least capable of exerting pressure and even imposing itself. Cool heads are of course as necessary as brave ones, and keeping 15 men on the field throughout is essential. Ireland’s most impressive performance this season, against France, was made a good deal easier by the French folly which left them a man short of such of the match, made easier too by the nervous and unconvincing performance from the French scrum-half Maxime Lucu. Nobody has mastered the Scotland pack this season; so there’s a fair chance Ireland may not do so either. Then last week Andy Christie, having his first Six Nations start, added pace and carrying power; if he can do today what England’s Ben Earl did at Twickenham last week, our chance will be improved.

The selection of Strafford McDowell at 12 is rough on Cam Redpath, but makes good sense. It is not just that McDowall has been in outstanding form in both attack and defence for Glasgow; it is also what he adds: size, strength, an eye for the try-line and a very powerful left boot. He has the power to check Bundee Aki, even to knock him back, and Aki is so important to Ireland that if he is checked Scotland’s chances are materially improved. Accurate kicking from Ben White, Finn Russell and McDowall is essential to pin Ireland back; equally influential to deny James Lowe time and opportunity to counter-attack.

Ireland remain odds-on favourites. The wafer-thin defeat at Twickenham is more likely to irritated than unnerved them. Day-in day-out they have been the best team in the Six Nations marginally ahead of France, for four or five years now. In that time their team has been regularly refreshed. Few would expect us to win even at Murrayfield, still less at the Aviva. Still we have the opportunity to win the Triple Crown for the first time since 1990. It was in 1984 however that we won in Dublin, 32-9 with two tries from Roy Laidlaw, one each from Keith Robertson and Peter Dods and a penalty try. Long time ago, but I remember it well. Such a margin is unimaginable today; a single point win would be enough .Close matches are in fashion this year.