Chris Cusiter, the scrum-half who led Scotland to victory in Dublin in 2010, believes Gregor Townsend is managing the Greig Laidlaw and Ali Price situation well and insists both number nines will have a key part to play against Ireland on Saturday.
During his own international career, Cusiter, who won 70 caps between 2004 and 2014, had his own battles for the starting jersey with the likes of Mike Blair and Rory Lawson.
And currently, Scotland have two quality scrum-halves battling it out in the shape of Laidlaw and Price. Having started the wins over France and England, Laidlaw will likely do the same again this weekend, with Price introduced off the bench as the Scots aim to keep themselves in the Six Nations title race and win in the Irish capital for the first time since Cusiter’s time.
Cusiter, now 35 and living in Los Angeles working in the whisky industry, feels that Laidlaw and Price are both quality performers.
“Throughout the tournament so far, the balance between Greig and Ali has been fascinating,” he said.
“I think Gregor has used them both really well in the last two games against France and England. Ali has a real zip in his pass and great speed to the breakdown. His enthusiasm is infectious. Greig brings the experience, game management and world-class goal kicking. They both bring a lot to the squad and I’m sure they’ll both play a big part in the outcome of the remaining games starting in Ireland. I’ve also really enjoyed watching Stuart Mcinally in the loose – his ball carrying and defensive work is excellent. John Barclay is playing as well as I’ve seen him and has fulfilled his potential.
“In the backs, like everyone else, I get excited when Huw Jones and Stuart Hogg get on the ball in some space. The key to this game in Ireland will be breakdown, breakdown, breakdown. The Irish are the kings of the dark arts in this area.
“They are aggressive, strong and quick, plus they really push the boundaries on legality.
“Scotland need to slow their ball down and turn them over when we get a chance. They do like to hold on to the ball for long phases of play, so we need to be prepared to defend for multiple phases.
“Our midfield defence is also key – Ireland use wrap-around plays with [Jonathan] Sexton regularly which are difficult to defend. We need to close down their space and time and put them under pressure. It will take a top-drawer performance – minimal mistakes, accurate attack, good goal kicking.
“If we can stick with them and defend through the phases they will undoubtedly go through, then counter-punch when we get a chance, we have the team to beat them.”
Looking back on the 23-20 victory at Croke Park eight years ago, Cusiter has some good memories. “The game was a bit of an arm-wrestle. I remember us winning the penalty near the end of the game and I can still see the ball sailing through the posts from Dan Parks’ beautiful strike,” he recounts. “It was a great feeling and a great way to finish a frustrating Six Nations campaign. I don’t think we played particularly well, but we stuck with them and took the opportunity when it came.”