Scotland v Ireland: Six Nations preview as the world’s best to show their class in tight Murrayfield battle

Dylan Coetzee
Scotland v Ireland: Split with Russell, Hogg and Sexton

Scotland welcome the world’s best Test side, Ireland, to their hallowed Murrayfield turf for a fourth-round Six Nations clash on Sunday.

The hosts have had one of their best campaigns in recent memory, winning their opening two games against England and Wales before giving defending champions France a fright in Round Three.

Of course, the Scots have to face up to a green machine that boasts a full house of 15 points in the opening rounds. Andy Farrell’s side have only strengthened their hold at the summit of the world and look odds on to be walking away Grand Slam champions in a fortnight.

However, sport is never so simple, and a resurgent, venomous Scotland side will do everything in their power to win the 300th Test at their famous ground and on Stuart Hogg’s 100th cap for his country.

It all sets up to be a brilliant tussle as the dynamic, creative hosts look to fluster the composed and meticulous Ireland.

Where the game will be won

Ireland are certainly favourites going into the clash with their carefully planned multi-phase attack made so brilliant by the players’ discipline and understanding of their roles.

Their attacking structure is made most effective by quick ball, which will be crucial to determining the outcome of the game, bringing the battle between the loose forwards into the spotlight. Farrell’s men have outstanding back-rowers with Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris and Peter O’Mahony, who have all been outstanding this season. These tireless men are imperative in the contact area, allowing their side to relentlessly execute phase after phase.

Scotland’s back-row will need to get in amongst it and disrupt the flow of possession. If the Scots can slow down the visitors’ speed of possession, it allows them more time to set their defensive line and make their tackles – something the side has done well with a 90.2% completion rate (the highest in the Six Nations thus far).

The hosts will have to be wary of Ireland’s fast starts as the world number one outfit have scored a try in the opening 10 minutes in nine of their last 10 Six Nations games. Once the Irish have a hold of the game, the experience and control of veteran Johnny Sexton puts a squeeze on the opposition.

Ireland, too, have to be wary of a dynamic Scotland backline that oozes X-factor in Duhan van der Merwe, Finn Russell, Hogg and the ever-popular centre pairing ‘Huwipulotu’ – Huw Jones and Sione Tuipulotu.

It still points to Ireland, but two weeks of clever preparation, solid execution of the game plan and a vociferous home crowd could put pressure on Farrell’s outfit.

Last time they met

What they said

Scotland defence coach Steve Tandy heaped praise on the Scottish centurion-to-be, Hogg, lauding him as a “special human being”.

“In this day and age, with the amount of rugby these boys play, to have the motivation and energy he has to represent Scotland, he’s a special player and a special human being,” said Tandy.

“The pride he has for representing Scotland is brilliant to see. It’ll be a huge achievement for him and well deserved.

“He’s bringing bags of energy with the way he plays and there’s an excitement around him.

“I know people talk about Hoggy in attack and things, but the energy he brings in defence, the communication, the focus, it’s brilliant to have him part of this group.”

Meanwhile, Van der Flier singled out Russell as a star to keep an eye on and believes the team working together will nullify his threat.

“Finn Russell is a brilliant player, he’s been on great form,” said the flanker.

“I suppose the trick with him is you don’t try and think you’ll solve it on your own.

“If someone jumps out of the line or tries to go at him on his own, he’s got good footwork, he’s good at picking the right pass.

“It’s a team thing and anyone who’s in and around him has to focus on staying connected with each other and not give him those opportunities.

“He’s one of those players that you give a bit of space to and he’s good enough to capitalise, as we’ve seen the last few weeks.”

Players to watch

Full-back Stuart Hogg reaches a major milestone for his country and one that is richly deserved. Since his debut in 2012, the Scot has been brilliant in navy blue and is currently Scotland’s all-time try scorer. Undoubtedly, the star will be inspired by his incredible feat and will be looking to impose himself on the game and do everything in his power to get his brave Scotland side over the line.

The centre pairing Huwipulotu will be absolutely crucial for this clash as they have been a key component of Scotland’s attacking output. Sione Tuipulotu and Huw Jones have an impressive synergy between them and always look dangerous going forward. Of course, the return of Garry Ringrose in the outside channels for Ireland will be a big factor, but with the rugby Jones is playing, it will make for a great battle.

Scotland captain Jamie Ritchie is another to watch, as his side will need every ounce of leadership and inspiration from the flank. This performance will be driven by emotion. It will be committed, and if Ireland are to be toppled, it starts with the tip of the spear. It is an important Test in the leadership journey of Ritchie.

Meanwhile, the ever-popular Tadhg Furlong returns to Ireland’s line-up, making his first appearance of the year. Whilst the side has dealt well with his absence, the front-row is a star that will always be missed. His scrummaging ability is a huge plus for Farrell’s team, coupled with his mobility, carrying ability and occasional nous with ball in hand. Irish fans everywhere will be eager to see him back in green and showcasing his talent.

Continuing in the Irish pack, Caelan Doris has been outstanding during the 2023 Six Nations and is surely the front-runner for the player of the tournament award. He is tireless and technically sound, and the way he operates in tandem with his back-row partners is impressive. Expect another Test filled with relentless carries, committed defence and energy throughout.

Garry Ringrose’s return will be hugely welcomed to the Ireland line-up as the centre has broken through yet another ceiling as both a player and a leader in recent times. Bundee Aki shifted to the outside centre channel against Italy and, whilst being useful on attack at times, he struggled defensively. It is the most complex position in a defensive system, requiring a fine rugby mind and a boatload of experience to master. Nevertheless, the Irishman will be wise to the rampant Scottish centres as he looks to disarm some of their key attacking components.

Main head-to-head

The battle of Murrayfield boasts an interesting match-up between two of the best fly-halves in the world as the maverick Finn Russell takes on the mercurial Johnny Sexton.

Russell is a catalyst by nature, a player who, by design, looks to make those around him look and perform better; a playmaker in every sense of the word and arguably the world’s best on attack. Scotland are better with Russell in the cockpit, simple as that. However, the pivot will need more than just his ingenious attack against Ireland. The star needs to grab hold of the game, ensure his team are playing in the right areas and keep Ireland pinned back.

Meanwhile, Sexton, who has been out with injury, returns this weekend and will make an immediate impact for Ireland as he always does. The fly-half is an impressive leader who elevates the performances of those around him through his skill-set and even his presence in the side. He can do it all as he has before, and he will be the conductor of the Irish orchestra at Murrayfield.

This battle will be absolutely decisive in the outcome of the game.


Scotland will be brave on their hallowed turf, inspired by a major milestone of one of their finest. The side has grown tremendously in 2023 and come into this fixture with a much greater chance than most would have thought at the beginning of the Six Nations.

However, in the Scots’ way is a mighty challenge. Ireland are the best in the world for good reason, a team so polished in their execution, so committed in their ethos and so thoroughly impressive in every sense of the word. It will be a committed showing from the hosts, but it will not be enough. Ireland to win by five points and take another step towards the Grand Slam.

Previous results

2022: Ireland won 26-5 in Dublin
2021: Ireland won 27-24 at Murrayfield
2020: Ireland won 31-16 in Dublin
2020: Ireland won 19-12 in Dublin
2019: Ireland won 27-3 in Yokohama
2019: Ireland won 22-13 at Murrayfield
2018: Ireland won 28-8 in Dublin
2017: Scotland won 27-22 at Murrayfield

The teams

Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Kyle Steyn, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Sione Tuipulotu, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ben White, 8 Jack Dempsey, 7 Jamie Ritchie (c), 6 Matt Fagerson, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 George Turner, 1 Pierre Schoeman
Replacements: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Jamie Bhatti, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Scott Cummings, 20 Hamish Watson, 21 Ali Price, 22 Blair Kinghorn, 23 Chris Harris

Ireland: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Mack Hansen, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 James Lowe, 10 Johnny Sexton (c), 9 Conor Murray, 8 Caelan Doris, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 James Ryan, 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Dan Sheehan, 1 Andrew Porter
Replacements: 16 Ronan Kelleher, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Tom O’Toole, 19 Ryan Baird, 20 Jack Conan, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Robbie Henshaw

Date: Sunday, March 12
Venue: BT Murrayfield
Kick-off: 15:00 GMT
Referee: Luke Pearce (England)
Assistant Referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Christophe Ridley (England)
TMO: Stuart Terheege (England)

READ MORE: Scotland: Stuart Hogg to reach 100 game milestone in Six Nations match against Ireland while Jack Dempsey starts