Wounded Ireland to bounce back against Scotland

Date published: February 8 2019

Scotland will hope to inflict further misery on reigning Six Nations champions Ireland when the sides clash at Murrayfield on Saturday.

On the back of that sobering 32-20 defeat to England in Dublin, it’s another difficult assignment for an Irish side bruised both physically and mentally. Put simply, England were better, stronger and brighter last weekend and Ireland can have no complaints after falling to a defeat.

Fortunately for Joe Schmidt’s troops they only have to wait seven days to attempt to turn around their fortunes and victory at Murrayfield would be the perfect tonic going into the tournament break. However, that won’t be easy as they found out only two years ago, losing 27-22.

What makes life tougher for Ireland this weekend is the absence of Devin Toner, CJ Stander and Garry Ringrose, who join Tadhg Beirne, Iain Henderson and Luke McGrath on the sidelines. They do though come into this mouth-watering clash as favourites according to the bookmakers.

Scotland might have something to say about that as they have built quite a fortress at Murrayfield of late, with last season’s Six Nations seeing them beat France and England on home soil. If they could defeat Ireland then a serious championship challenge would be very much on.

When the competition resumes on Saturday, February 23, Scotland will take on France, who we would expect to be zero from two at that point, before hosting Wales and then heading to England to finish. But Gregor Townsend and his charges would be foolish to let their minds wander past this weekend’s meeting as Ireland gave them a harsh lesson 12 months ago in the match in Dublin, a fixture they had entered full of confidence.

One senses an Irish backlash on Saturday and if Scotland aren’t on their game early an uphill struggle could ensue. Expect this Irish pack to flex its muscles after being humbled by England so the hosts must front up if they’re to avoid another title push that fails to kick on.

Players to watch:

For Scotland: The return of Jonny Gray to the second-row is a positive sight for Scottish fans as they will need him to get through his usual workmanlike shift at the coalface. Expect him to make 15-plus tackles and be busy with ball in hand at Murrayfield and, if he can impose himself on the game, Scotland stand a much better chance of victory. Elsewhere, Sean Maitland has some big shoes to fill as he comes in for last week’s hat-trick hero Blair Kinghorn. Maitland is viewed as a more reliable defensive wing but expect to see the in-form Kinghorn later on.

For Ireland: Speaking of pressure, it’s been reported that Ireland second-row Quinn Roux will be calling the line-outs for his side on Saturday. He’ll be assisted by Peter O’Mahony and, while Roux does the job for Connacht, this will be a big step up in terms of pressure. We’re also looking forward to seeing how the Irish half-backs Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton bounce back as both were below par last week in Dubin.

Head-to-head: We go to the outside centre channel here where Huw Jones faces Chris Farrell. Farrell earns his second Six Nations start due to Ringrose’s absence and will hope to transfer his solid Munster form to the international arena this weekend. Jones, meanwhile, looked somewhere near his best in their opener with Italy but this too is a step up for him as he goes up against a physical opponent.

Previous results:

2018: Ireland won 28-8 in Dublin
2017: Scotland won 27-22 at Murrayfield
2016: Ireland won 35-25 in Dublin
2015: Ireland won 28-22 in Dublin
2015: Ireland won 40-10 at Murrayfield
2014: Ireland won 28-6 in Dublin
2013: Scotland won 12-8 at Murrayfield
2012: Ireland won 32-14 in Dublin

Prediction: A very difficult game to call due to Irish injuries and the Murrayfield factor but that air of righting wrongs from the England defeat should just get the visitors over the line. Ireland by 3.

The teams:

Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 Sean Maitland, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Greig Laidlaw (c), 8 Josh Strauss, 7 Jamie Ritchie, 6 Ryan Wilson, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Grant Gilchrist, 3 Simon Berghan, 2 Stuart McInally, 1 Allan Dell
Replacements: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Jamie Bhatti, 18 D’arcy Rae, 19 Ben Toolis, 20 Rob Harley, 21 Ali Price, 22 Pete Horne, 23 Blair Kinghorn

Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Sean O’Brien, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 Quinn Roux, 4 James Ryan, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Cian Healy
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Josh van der Flier, 21 John Cooney, 22 Joey Carbery, 23 Jordan Larmour

Date: Saturday, February 9
Venue: Murrayfield
Kick-off: 14:15 GMT
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant referees: Pascal Gaüzère (France), Federico Anselmi (Argentina)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)