Saturday, March 10, 2018

Preview : Ireland v Scotland

There's much irony in the fact that Leinster face Scarlets on the same weekend as Ireland host Scotland.

I have to hold up my hand and admit that when the Llanelli-based club came to the RDS for the Pro12 semifinal last season, before a ball was kicked I was guilty of imagining our gameplan against Munster in the final.  And I know I wasn't alone.

Well we all know how that turned out and this match against the Scots has to be looked at like it's a semifinal...there may not be an actual trophy at the end of it but if you don't win on the day, there definitely won't be one down the line.  Whether or not that's not technically true in this case, I'm talking about our where our heads need to be at kickoff time.

And that's not the only perception that needs to be quashed as far as I'm concerned...although I was an advocate of bonus points being introduced to the Six Nations, the way the numbers crunch after three rounds means there are scenarios that would have us champions before going to Twickenham...anyone have one of those Men In Black memory-wiping things I can borrow?

Let's be clear...yes, Ireland will be favourites as we kick off against Scotland.  But Gregor Townsend's men won't be coming to Dublin to play for pride...they are still very much in this championship and not only do they have plenty of dangerous options in their arsenal, they will also be brimming with confidence after successive wins over France and England.

OK, that's enough of the confidence-dampening, time to look at ways we can actually win this one.

When Joe Schmidt named the team on Thursday one of the first questions he got was about his confidence in Johnny Sexton's kicking.  Of course he backed his world class outhalf to the hilt, even going as far as to suggest that he was unlucky against Wales.  

But all of us who have followed his career know him well enough to appreciate that blemishes like those on his record do nothing but spur him on - we saw evidence of this even in the Welsh match itself as he more than made up for whatever he lacked from the tee with both his passing and carrying, both of which led to Irish tries.

And we also know that he won't be happy with that...those misses will have been at him for the full two weeks in between matches, making him even more keen to get out there and put in a flawless performance...if the Scots don't have a way of dealing with him and his scrum half that works, it could well be a long afternoon for them.

Then we have the return of Tadhg Furlong to the front row.  That is absolutely immense for the squad, with all due respect to Andrew Porter and John Ryan, both of whom did well against the Welsh.  It's just the whole idea of having your preferred starter back playing much sooner than expected is always a huge boost, especially when it's a Lion in such a key position.

We also have Iain Henderson back available though it's interesting to see him on the bench...I thought Devin Toner was denied a lot of praise for his defensive work last time out and perhaps this is what persuaded the coach to keep him and James Ryan together.

You have to feel for Chris Farrell - missing out with injury is one thing but to do it in training has to be heartbreaking.  That said, having Garry Ringrose to replace him could still be a major positive assuming his limited game time hasn't affected his match fitness.

He has bulked up quite a bit since he first broke into the senior ranks but let's just say on the 'power play' moves I'd expect Bundee Aki to be called on more....where Garry can do damage is when he goes on one of his meandering runs, often using his own forwards emerging from the breakdown as a shield, to create gaps through the gainline where it seemed none existed.

Then of course we have our defensive my Wales writeup I harped on my annoyance over what I call our 'defensive narrow-tive' whereby we criticise our coverage based on attacks that led to tries while ignoring the times it actually score tries the Welsh passing had to be absolutely perfect and when it wasn't, the likes of Jacob Stockdale were able to benefit.

We defend to a rigid system that relies on all the parts working at once...yes, there are times we get caught out but I'll take the net gains we gave seen in recent displays over a major overhaul any day.

Should we have concerns about Wayne Barnes being referee?   I know many groan when they see his name but I'm not one of them, and our disciplinary record so far in this championship has been exemplary and if we continue in that vein I can't see him treating us any differently [you can't see me but I somehow managed to type that bit with my fingers crossed].

As always with a Joe Schmidt side, accuracy is going to be key in all aspects of the game, but particularly against the Scots with their pacy back three, we'll need to have it most in our kicking game.  They'll be ready to pounce on every hint of a mistake so it's up to us not to make any and I think we can manage that.

I'm going to cautiously step over the bookies' prediction of a ten-point margin and opt for 12-14, provided we play to the levels I know we can.  If we can turn early possession into points better than we did last time out, we can possibly win by more, particularly as I feel we should have an edge on setpieces.  

As for whether or not we'll get the bonus point, to be honest unless we absolutely dominate them in every area I won't be too fussed if we score three tries or less so long as we win.  

Here's hoping we can do always the lads will need all your support so make sure they get it in every way you can offer it.  JLP

PS - Be sure to join in our post-match discussion after full time over on the HarpinOnRugby Facebook page, all opinions welcome.


Scotland : 15. Stuart Hogg 14. Blair Kinghorn 13. Huw Jones 12. Pete Horne 11. Sean Maitland 10. Finn Russell 9. Greig Laidlaw
1. Gordon Reid 2. Stuart McInally 3. Simon Berghan 4. Grant Gilchrist 5. Jonny Gray 6. John Barclay  CAPTAIN 7. Hamish Watson 8. Ryan Wilson 
Substitutes 16. Fraser Brown 17. Jamie Bhatti 18. Willem Nel 19. Tim Swinson 20. David Denton 21. Ali Price 22. Nick Grigg 23. Lee Jones.

Natwest Six Nations 2018 - Round 4
Saturday, March 10, 2018
KO 2:15pm
Aviva Stadium

Referee - Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant 1 - Ben O'Keeffe (New Zelaand)
Assistant 2 - Luke Pearce (England)
TMO - George Ayoub (Australia)
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