Preview: Ireland v Scotland

Date published: August 14 2015

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Scotland will step up their preparations for the Rugby World Cup when they travel over to Dublin for their first warm-up match against Ireland.

Despite a winless Six Nations, which ended with a 40-10 defeat to Ireland at Murrayfield ensuring Joe Schmidt's won the tournament, the optimism surrounding the side following the appointment of Vern Cotter hasn't worn off.

Last season was the former Clermont head coach's first full campaign to gauge the depth available in Scotland and there have been bright moments, in particular last November when Argentina were defeated and they pushed New Zealand close.

As a result Cotter signed a new contract this week to keep him in charge until 2017.

Even with the Six Nations whitewash there is arguably no better man to lead Scotland forward based on how their performances have noticeably improved. 

Part of that comes down to Cotter's faith in Scotland's younger players such as Finn Russell, Stuart Hogg, Grant Gilchrist and this weekend's debutant, the New Zealand-born flanker Hugh Blake.

Blake, 22, through no real fault of his own, caused outrage when he was named in Scotland's Six Nations squad having not yet played a game for Edinburgh at the start of the year. Qualifying through his grandparents, Blake will complete a back-row that includes another New Zealand-born player in Blair Cowan and David Denton, who was born in Zimbabwe and grew up in South Africa.

Cotter's selection gives Ruaridh Jackson (full-back) and Greig Tonks (fly-half) chances to stake a claim to make the final group of 31, while Richie Vernon starts his first game as a centre since converting from number eight, three years on from his last Test appearance.

Scotland are yet to reduce their 46-man squad announced at the beginning of June so for many players Saturday could prove to be a last chance to stake their claim.

Ireland meanwhile produced a confident performance against Wales last Saturday without ever hitting top gear, yet scored five tries and didn't look like a side playing their first game in five months.

The trademark elements of Schimdt's game-plan were on full display with the way Ireland patiently kept the ball in hand but also domianted at the breakdown.

A number of first-choice players from the Six Nations are now being eased into action with Tommy Bowe, Jared Payne (who comes in for the impressive Keith Earls), Sean O'Brien, Devin Toner and Mike Ross all starting in Dublin. Paul O'Connell too is set for a run off the bench.

Making 14 changes shows just how deep Ireland's squad currently is given Saturday's XV looks more than capable of carrying on from where last week's team left off. Conor Murray, Jonathan Sexton, Peter O'Mahony, Robbie Henshaw and others are still to get any minutes too.

The only sour note has been the loss of two back-row candidates in Rhys Ruddock and Tommy O'Donnell. 

A hip dislocation in Cardiff has ruled O'Donnell out which is a real shame given how he impressed not just last week but when called upon during the Six Nations. As a result of those losses, the uncapped Jack Conan gets a run at blindside flanker.

Players to watch: Called off the bench earlier than expected last week, Simon Zebo now gets a run at full-back after scoring and producing a fine assist against Wales. He will be partnered in the back three by Tommy Bowe, who has produced so many important tries for Ireland over the years and when fully fit and in-form remains one of the world's best.

Paddy Jackson played with authority against Wales but his goal-kicking left plenty to be desired. More will be expected from Ian Madigan who is certain to make Schmidt's squad given his versaility at fly-half and centre, but with Jackson on the bench he may only have a short time to get up to speed. Jack Conan will obviously be under the spotlight as he makes his international debut and brings plenty of bulk to the party at 114kg.

Ruaridh Jackson's selection at full-back is intriguing given that Finn Russell and Duncan Weir appear to be above him in the pecking order – a strong showing might boost his chances of making the final cut. Grant Gilchrist meanwhile was set to lead Scotland during the Six Nations until a broken forearm ruined his season.

Towards the end of Glasgow's successful PRO12  season Peter Horne stood out and now gets a chance at inside centre, while Hugh Blake can silence his critics who are probably yet to even see him play. With Josh Strauss waiting in the wings, Blake needs to convince Cotter that he has what it takes but coming up against a combative Irish back-row is a difficult start.

Head to head: Two number eights that pack a punch. David Denton actually measures up taller and heavier than Sean O'Brien but the Irish captain when fit has been one of the top destructive carriers in the sport. Denton is another to toil with injuries but watching the two athletes face off should be plenty of fun.

Previous results: 

2015: Ireland won 40-10 at Murrayfield

2014: Ireland won 28-6 at the Aviva Stadium
2013: Scotland won 12-8 at Murrayfield
2012: Ireland won 32-14 at the Aviva Stadium
2011: Scotland won 10-6 at Murrayfield
2011: Ireland won 21-18 at Murrayfield
2010: Scotland won 23-20 at Croke Park

Prediction: Ireland were comfortable last weekend and with Scotland turning out for the first time and with plenty of new combinations they should find it tough going away from home. Although the result is irrelevant. Ireland by 20.

The teams:

Ireland: 15 Simon Zebo, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Jared Payne, 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Luke Fitzgerald, 10 Ian Madigan, 9 Isaac Boss, 8 Sean O'Brien (c), 7 Chris Henry, 6 Jack Conan, 5 Dan Tuohy, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Sean Cronin, 1 Dave Kilcoyne
Replacements: 16 Richardt Strauss, 17 Michael Bent, 18 Nathan White, 19 Paul O'Connell, 20 Jordi Murphy, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Paddy Jackson, 23 Dave Kearney

Scotland: 15 Ruaridh Jackson, 14 Sean Lamont, 13 Richie Vernon, 12 Peter Horne, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Greig Tonks, 9 Henry Prygos (c), 8 David Denton, 7 Hugh Blake, 6 Blair Cowan, 5 Grant Gilchrist, 4 Jim Hamilton, 3 Jon Welsh, 2 Fraser Brown, 1 Ryan Grant
Replacements: 16 Ross Ford, 17 Gordon Reid, 18 Mike Cusack, 19 Rob Harley, 20 John Barclay, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Duncan Weir, 23 Matt Scott

Date: Saturday, August 15
Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Kick-off: 17:00 local (16:00 GMT)
Referee: Pascal Gauzère (France)
Assistant Referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Marius Mitrea (Italy)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)

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