Six Nations: Scotland must exploit any signs of Irish tiredness while respecting their tenacity

Scotland will never have a better chance to upset the international rugby rankings by putting one over on the Irish when they break new ground at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin, tomorrow.

While Ireland have climbed one place to seventh, the Scots remain stuck on 11th spot but back row star Dave Denton, who made an international debut when the teams clashed in a pre-World Cup friendly in Edinburgh, insists: “Our boys feel very fresh. I don’t know if the Irish will be able to say the same.”

That was a reference to how a postponement in Paris and subsequent re-arranged fixture has left Ireland two games into a run of four Tests on successive weekends.

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Denton adds: “There is no question (that) there is no better opportunity for us to beat them. Its tough for them with four games on the trot.

“We know that and we have to go into the game assuming they are going to be slightly tired.

“They will be a very strong side but it is a game we can definitely win.”

Such bullishness should not be confused with complacency with Denton also paying the ultimate tribute to his back row rivals, saying: “I have an opportunity to play against the best back row in the world.”

While his previous brush with the men in green amounted to a brief spell off the bench, Denton still had a taster of what to expect.

“All Irish teams play a similar way.

WThey’ll try to hold us up in the tackle and they are extremely physical at the breakdown.

“They are one of the most effective teams in the world at the breakdown so we have to combat that. They are going to try to mess up our ball and break our rhythm. For us to be effective we have got to get the high paced game we got against France.

“If we can do that it is partly about our back row beating their back row.

“An opposition player said to me there aren’t many scrums in Scotland games.

“The scrum can be a good platform for us to attack off but the more high paced we can play the better and the fewer scrums the more we are executing and influencing with our skills.”

At 12 and a half stones, Scotland stand off Greig Laidlaw will be conceding almost half his body weight in some confrontations.

And, while nobody would ever question the bravery or technique of the Edinburgh ace, pure realism dictates that extra cover is provided of the sort highlighted recently by his Capital cohort Netani Talei, who said after Laidlaw, pictured right, had been over-run by Cardiff Blues’ Alex Cuthbert (16st 5lb): “Always during games for Edinburgh I tell Greig I’ve got his back covered. He is a small boy but he has a big heart.

“For his size, it is impossible to tackle an 18st back row running at him but he gives it his best. He hangs on. Others will be targeting Greig because he is a small No. 10 and, if I was running at him, he wouldn’t be able to get me down. On the other hand, if I was his back row I would always be on his inside shoulder.”

The message has finally hit home with Scotland captain Ross Ford admitting: “Greig puts his body on the line the whole time but it is up to us. If we get our structures right the half backs won’t have to make too many tackles at all.

“We’ve had a look at that. Greig himself knows he is capable of making those tackles. No qualms about that.

“It is for us to ensure he mostly does what he does best.”

Admittedly in the amateur era, Welshman Phil Bennett comes to mind as a player who reached dizzy heights without having his relatively slight physique exposed and similar protection would contribute to getting Laidlaw on the front foot pulling the strings in the assured manner he does with Edinburgh.

In that situation Scotland will be looking to draw on a rejuvenated centre combination.

Rory Lamont’s injury misfortune brought Graeme Morrison and Nick De Luca back together against France and the pair clicked to the extent of contributing to a try for Lee Jones.

That was not too surprising given the fact that they have stood side-by-side in some notable victories. These include the first Test triumph over Argentina in Tucuman two years ago and when Scotland overcame Ireland at Croke Park immediately prior to that tour.

All successful pairings need a blend and Morrison believes he and De Luca offer some contrast in approach.

Says Morrison: “I’m delighted to be playing alongside Nick again. Playing as he did when coming on against France he brought an energy and plenty of talk. We’ve played a lot of times together (including a home draw with England) and if he is a livewire who makes things happen maybe I’m more steady. But the whole team showed in Ireland two years ago what we could do and hopefully the same will apply on this occasion.”

De Luca echoes much of that while playing down the fact that omission from the starting line-up last time meant he had a point to prove.

“I wasn’t conscious of having the bit between my teeth. I just went on and things went my way. I concentrated on doing the basics well and I think I did that. I don’t feel I did anything special, just made the hits and put guys in space.

“Ultimately it was a game Scotland lost and I was not so much upset as angry. I was angry because we are so close to winning again.

“It might be a different stadium in Dublin but it will be the same hostile crowd and the same great atmosphere.

“Also, through the RaboDirect Pro 12 League, we know opposition players inside out and as far as that goes we have every chance.”

Much has been made in the build-up to Irish defence which can be based on smother, or “choke”, tackling so as to keep ball-carriers upright and off the turf ensuring the subsequent scrum put-in goes their way.

But, according to De Luca, with diligent planning that can be used against Ireland.

“They are one of the few teams in the world, if not the only one, that do put one tackler in low with the other challenging higher up.

“The choke tackle is very awkward to play against so we’ll be looking to send in the cavalry and help each other out.

“It is about manipulating the defence and running in numbers and hopefully in the position I am in I can draw people on to me and put others into space.”

One of the impact players who will be hoping to revel as the game becomes looser is Max Evans but he warns: “The Irish always try to close you off early and we are aware of that which is obviously the first thing to plan for.

“There will also be a huge focus on making sure our back three wingers and full back are always in the right position because Sexton and O’Gara, if and when the latter comes off the bench, can put the ball exactly where they want it and a moment’s lapse can mean yards conceded.”

Indeed, there are threats galore from an Irish side who, in Tommy Bowe, have one of the most dangerous attackers around as shown by his intercept try in the 17-17 draw in Paris on Sunday, and they have claimed three times as many touchdowns as their visitors so far in the tournament.

However, the longer Scotland remain in contention the better their chances of finally taking that final stride to the winning line, not least because of possible Irish fatigue.