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Ireland v Scotland - Teams and Prediction

ROUND FIVE PREVIEW: Ireland seek to make up for their frustration on missing out on historic back-to-back Six Nations Grand Slams by being crowned tournament champions in beating Scotland at Lansdowne Road on Saturday.

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The Irish were given a serious jolt, after cruising through their first three matches, by a revitalised England in losing at Twickenham but meet a Scots side equally battered and bruised after they lost to Italy.

Not many people will give the Scots a chance against Andy Farrell’s side and end a run of nine successive defeats at the hands of the Irish.

Ireland are also bidding for their 19th successive home win, while Gregor Townsend’s side has not won in Dublin since 2010 when the Irish were still at their temporary home of Croke Park.

Redemption beckons

Farrell was graceful after the defeat to England, but he will not have spared the players, most of whom under-performed, and geed them up for the consolation prize of the title.

“We’ve got to dust ourselves down because we have a championship to win,” Farrell said.

“There’s not a problem getting the lads back on track. Six Nations [titles] are unbelievably difficult to come by.”

The manner in which Farrell succeeded in moving the devastated players on from their World Cup quarterfinal defeat by New Zealand augurs well.

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“It’ll be a big test but we’re mature enough as a team at this stage that we’ll be able to get ourselves right and realise that it’s very much in our control,” said flank Josh van der Flier, one of the few to shine for the Irish last weekend.

Townsend is under pressure as, touted as a potential dark horse for the title, the Italy defeat (29-31) exposed his side’s fragility in letting big leads slip – they just got away with it in the 27-26 win over Wales but the Italians seized their moment.

The 50-year-old insists his team have progressed since a second successive World Cup first-round exit under him.

“I believe in this group,” he said.

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“You can look at results and say: ‘We’ve lost to Italy, this team aren’t going to take that next step’. Or you can look at where we’ve grown since the World Cup.

“I still believe the performances the players are putting in can show we can beat anybody.”

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Van der Merwe looks to hog the limelight

The Scots possess the armoury to hurt the Irish, though it often depends on which Finn Russell turns up, the one that waves a wand and his magic works or whose radar is switched off for the day.

There is, though, one dependable force to be reckoned with and that is their South Africa-born wing Duhan van der Merwe.

The 28-year-old needs just one try to equal Stuart Hogg’s national record of 27 and his historic trio of Calcutta Cup touchdowns against England illustrated how clinical he is when he scents the tryline.

Townsend hails him as being “humble” but his greatest praise for him is how “he backs himself” when he sees an opportunity.

The Irish have been duly warned.

O’Mahony’s unwelcome cards

A captain leads by example but in Peter O’Mahony’s case he would rather it had not been in terms of ill-discipline.

His two yellow cards set the tone for an area which the Irish had prided themselves on before this year’s tournament.

The Irish have four yellow cards in total, they had just three in their previous 29 Tests and conceded a Six Nations-leading 45 penalties.

Tadhg Beirne, who was sin-binned against Wales, said no matter how well you defend there will come a time when the pressure tells and players put their hands where they should not be.

“When teams are putting you under pressure of course you’re going to be more likely to give away penalties because you’re on the back foot,” he said.

“We can’t be desperate, which at times we were against England. When you get desperate you make stupid decisions and you can go off on your own and go out of the system and that can have a big knock-on effect.”

Players to watch

For Ireland: Saturday’s match could be a tense encounter and Ireland will look to captain Peter O’Mahony for some strong leadership. Flyhalf Jack Crowley faces a stern test when he comes up against Finn Russell. The young Irish flyhalf has shown a lot of potential in Johnny Sexton’s shoes and he could tick another box with a strong performance against the Scots. In the midfield, Bundee Aki has the power and speed to get his team over the advantage line, while fullback Hugo Keenan is a huge calming presence at the back and lethal when he joins the attacking line. Ireland will also have the luxury of calling on Garry Ringrose off the bench in the second half.

For Scotland: Centre Stafford McDowall is set to make just his second Scotland appearance after being selected to start in Saturday’s match. The 26-year-old Glasgow centre made his debut against Italy in a World Cup warm-up match last year before being dropped from Gregor Townsend’s squad for the tournament in France. In the other change to the team that started in Rome against Italy last weekend, first-choice scrumhalf Ben White returns in place of George Horne after the Toulon No.9 was rested for the Stadio Olimpico clash with the Azzurri. With it being the final round of the Six Nations, there will be a spotlight on Duhan van der Merwe who has an opportunity to equal Stuart Hogg’s national try-scoring record of 27.

Head to head

Prediction

@rugby365com: Ireland by 14 points

Teams:

Ireland: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Calvin Nash, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 James Lowe, 10 Jack Crowley, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Caelan Doris, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Peter O’Mahony (captain), 5 Tadhg Beirne, 4 Joe McCarthy, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Dan Sheehan, 1 Andrew Porter.
Replacements: 16 Ronan Kelleher, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Ryan Baird, 20 Jack Conan, 21 Conor Murray, 22 Harry Byrne, 23 Garry Ringrose.

Scotland: 15 Blair Kinghorn, 14 Kyle Steyn, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Stafford McDowall, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Finn Russell (co-captain), 9 Ben White, 8 Jack Dempsey, 7 Rory Darge (co-captain), 6 Andy Christie, 5 Scott Cummings, 4 Grant Gilchrist, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 George Turner, 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Replacements: 16 Ewan Ashman, 17 Rory Sutherland, 18 Elliot Millar-Mills, 19 Sam Skinner, 20 Matt Fagerson, 21 George Horne, 22 Cameron Redpath, 23 Kyle Rowe.

Date: Saturday, March 16
Venue: Lansdowne Road, Dublin
Kick-off: 16.45 (16.45 GMT)
Expected weather: it will be cloudy with a good chance of rain in the afternoon with a high of 12°C and a low of 8°C
Referee: Matthew Carley (England)
Assistant referees: Karl Dickson (England), Christophe Ridley (England)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)

AFP & @rugby365com

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