Ireland v Scotland - Teams and Predictions
NATIONS CUP, PLAY-OFFS: Andy Farrell and Gregor Townsend will both hope to end a difficult year with a win when their respective sides Ireland and Scotland meet on Saturday.
Ireland and Scotland will contest the Nations Cup third-place play-off at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Saturday 5th December.
Both teams finished second in their respective pools.
Ireland beat Wales and Georgia but lost to England in Pool A. Scotland beat Italy but lost to France in Pool B.
Both coaches have been under tremendous pressure, however, it seems their respective Unions have full confidence in their coaching prowess.
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Irish legend versus IRFU and Farrell
Farrell and Irish Rugby Football Union performance director David Nucifora have been criticised by former players including Shane Horgan and 2009 Six Nations Grand Slam winner Gordon D’Arcy.
They fear Ireland have regressed since Farrell was promoted from assistant to the top job, when Joe Schmidt stepped down following last year’s World Cup.
It is not a view shared by forthright captain Johnny Sexton, who pointed out that Ireland had already slipped last year – with a poor Six-Nations showing following their 2018 Grand Slam, and a disappointing World Cup.
One of the perennial questions surrounding Ireland and the direction they will take is who will replace Sexton as flyhalf.
However, despite being increasingly injury-prone and aged 35, Sexton is adamant he has no thoughts about hanging up his boots.
Instead, the Leinster flyhalf, who has not featured for Ireland since suffering a hamstring strain against Wales in Round 1 of the tournament, revealed he is keen to finish 2020 on a high note.
“We feel we’ve done some really good work and we haven’t put it out there for people to see and this Saturday is about trying to do that,” Sexton said.
“Trying to put all the pieces together, take all the lessons and put out a performance that we’re proud of. That leads us into the Six Nations because we have big aspirations with this group and we want to start taking steps forward.
“We’ll be the first to admit we haven’t put the performance in for the full 80 minutes that we want. We’ve shown bits and pieces that have been really good. Some stuff that hasn’t been so good, but we’re determined to put in an 80-minute performance.”
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For Scotland, this encounters will be an uphill battle as Townsend’s mean last beat Ireland in their backyard a decade ago at Croke Park, and head into Saturday’s tie having lost their previous four contests against Farrell’s men.
Despite the unflattering record, Scotland Rugby Union chief executive Mark Dodson recently admitted preparing for talks on a new deal with head coach Townsend.
The Scotland boss has revealed his desire to extend his Scotland contract until the next World Cup, with a new deal possibly in place before Christmas.
He has confirmed his desire to stay at the helm until the World Cup in France in 2023 – which would require a two-year contract extension.
Townsend took the Scotland helm in May 2017, signing a new three-year deal in July 2018 that will expire next summer.
If talks with Dodson go as expected, however, the former Scotland and British and Irish Lions flyhalf will soon have another extension ratified.
Asked if he could sign a new deal soon, Townsend said: “Yeah that would be great if it happens.
“I’ve enjoyed the role the whole time, but certainly given the positives I’ve seen within the playing group and the management that work with me, the coaching staff, I feel that we’ve got the ingredients, the expertise from a coaching, support staff, we’ve got the players and the togetherness to go and achieve things over the next couple of years,”
Players to watch
For Ireland: Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray resurrect their halfback partnership in Dublin, while Robbie Henshaw returns to outside centre to partner Bundee Aki. Cian Healy returns to the pack, combining with Andrew Porter and Rob Herring in the front row, with Peter O’Mahony recalled to the back row.
For Scotland: The major change and talking point is Jaco van der Walt. The SOuth Africa-born flyhalf will make his international bow at the Aviva Stadium. Duncan Taylor will return to the Scotland fold for the first time since last year’s Rugby World Cup at inside centre, combining with Chris Harris in midfield. Darcy Graham has been recalled to the right wing, while Rory Sutherland, Zander Fagerson and Blade Thomson replace Oli Kebble, Simon Berghan and Hamish Watson respectively.
Head to Head:
The flyhalf battle is always key and in this case opposing flyhalves at opposing ends of their international careers. While Johnny Sexton is keen to play on until the next World Cup, Jaco van der Walt will earn his first cap in Dublin. With his familiar partner Conor Murray inside him, Andy Farrell will be eager for the pair to recapture their best form with next year’s Six Nations on the horizon. With Finn Russell and Adam Hastings unavailable to Townsend, it is Van der Walt’s chance to make an impression on the Scotland head coach and stake his claim for the No.10 jersey.
@rugby365com: Ireland by 15 points.
Ireland: 15 Jacob Stockdale, 14 Hugo Keenan, 13 Bundee Aki, 12 Robbie Henshaw 11 Keith Earls, 10 Johnny Sexton (captain), 9 Conor Murray, 8 Caelan Doris, 7 Peter O’Mahony, 6 CJ Stander, 5 James Ryan, 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Andrew Porter, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Ronan Kelleher, 17 Eric O’Sullivan, 18 John Ryan, 19 Quinn Roux, 20 Josh van der Flier, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Chris Farrell.
Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg (captain), 14 Darcy Graham, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Duncan Taylor, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Ali Price, 8 Matt Fagerson, 7 Jamie Ritchie, 6 Blade Thomson, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Scott Cummings, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 Fraser Brown, 1 Rory Sutherland.
Replacements: 16 Stuart McInally, 17 Oliver Kebble, 18 Willem Nel, 19 Sam Skinner, 20 Blair Cowan, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Huw Jones, 23 Sean Maitland.
Date: Saturday, December 5
Venue: Lansdowne Road, Dublin
Kick-off: 14.15 (14.14 GMT)
Expected weather: Showers with a high of 7°C and a low of 2°C.
Referee: Matthew Carley
Assistant referees: Romain Poite, Karl Dickson
TMO: Dan Jones