Preview: Ireland v Scotland
SIX NATIONS ROUND ONE: Ireland host Scotland in their opening Six Nations clash in Dublin on Saturday with both sides desperate to put a disappointing World Cup behind them.
Last year’s World Cup signalled the end of numerous eras and the end of a few illustrious careers as the teams left Japan.
However months later and at the start of Six Nations, there are four new coaches and four new captains, including Ireland’s Johnny Sexton and Scotland’s Stuart Hogg.
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The Sexton factor
Sexton has faced pressure before with Leinster and Ireland but Saturday’s game could be one of his most testing. The 34-year-old flyhalf returns after nearly a two-month absence due to a knee injury but insists he is raring to go.
He also captains his country for the first time in a Six Nations at an age when he may have thought that possibility had passed him by.
He describes it as the “greatest honour”.
However, some have questioned the appointment as the competitive streak which strays into bad humour at times has jarred in the past
“Yeah, great. No setbacks really to talk about,” he said.
“It felt good on Thursday in Portugal and I’ve done pretty much everything since, so delighted to be fit and raring to go now.”
Aside from that, Sexton will be expected to run things with Scotland number one Finn Russell absent due to being punished for breaking team rules.
However, he says Adam Hastings – making his first Six Nations start – presents just as much a problem as the Racing 92 star with his “box of tricks.”
“When you talk about Finn Russell’s strengths, you’re talking about Adam Hastings’ strengths, they’re all the same,” Sexton told reporters at Ireland’s training base.
“I don’t know how it will disrupt them, they’ve sort of played it down a little bit.
“They seem to be happy with where they’re at and he [Hastings] is a quality player and one that we are going to have to be fully switched on for because he has a full bag of tricks that he can pull out,”
Sexton will also be determined to put behind him what was an underwhelming World Cup for him and his team.
He has described the 14-46 mauling by New Zealand in the quarter-finals as one he won’t forget for the rest of his life.
Arrived in Dublin 🛩
— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) January 30, 2020
Hogg faces tough baptism as skipper
If Sexton is under pressure then spare a thought for Scotland’s new captain Stuart Hogg.
Hard enough in your first Six Nations match as skipper to face a side you have not beaten in Dublin for 10 years and got well beaten by in the World Cup.
Even harder when the other world-class player in the Scotland team, Finn Russell is absent.
Hogg, though, has been thorough in seeking advice and was due to speak to another Scotland great who skippered the side from fullback, Gavin Hastings.
“Gavin would be a good one to have a chat with…of how you bring the best out of players in the frontline from being so far behind,” said the 27-year-old.
Hogg’s ability to turn a game with his breaks into the backline could hurt the Irish defence provided he is not too distracted by his added responsibilities.
Captaincy may also take his mind off other matters after he revealed he lost his hair following a hair transplant because he bleached it too quickly.
A second operation has, however, restored his locks.
“It was a little bit painful,” he told the Rugby Union podcast.
He will hope Saturday is not as painful.
Will the Irish dog bite?
Irish rugby icon Brian O’Driscoll believes there is no “dog” in the present Irish scrum and that is hurting them.
The former centre says there is no one like ex-Irish flank Sean O’Brien in being able to “impose themselves” on the opposition and be “nasty”.
His former Leinster teammate Sexton smiled when it was raised.
“I saw the headline and the gist of it. Look, I can understand what he is saying.
“But there are a few guys in there who have a bit of grunt about them. Hopefully, they can show that on Saturday.”
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Players to Watch:
For Ireland: The experienced 78-cap Munster player Conor Murray need to prove himself after being selected ahead of 29-year-old in-form Ulster player John Cooney. New skipper Johnn Sexton will lead Ireland in Dublin on Saturday, starting at flyhalf after overcoming a knee problem suffered in December. The skipper will have to keep steady and be the calm presence in the spine. In the pack, CJ Stander is always a standout performer and this weekend should be no different.
For Scotland: Huw Jones’s return following his World Cup absence certainly boost the backline. Flyhalf Adam Hastings has been handed the keys to number 10 for his first championship. In the pack, stalwart Jonny Gray will be a vital component in the second row. In terms of leadership captain Stuart Hogg has the enormous task of steering the squad.
Head to head: The tried and tested combo of Johnny Sexton and Connor Murray of Ireland against Scotland’s Adam Hastings – in his first championship start – and Ali Price will be an intriguing battle. Despite the Irish pair having the slightest advantage, they are going to have their hands full with the Glasgow Warriors duo. Meanwhile, the key in the forward battle will be between the debutants No.8s Caelan Doris of Ireland and Nick Haining.
2019: Ireland won 27-3, Japan (World Cup Pool match)
2019: Ireland won 22-13, Edinburgh
2018: Ireland won 28-8, Dublin
2017: Scotland won 27-22, Edinburgh
2016: Ireland won 35-25, Dublin
Predictions: The World Cup was a disappointing tournament for both teams. Newly-appointed head coach Andy Farrell, and Scotland coach Gregor Townsend will look at this opening match as a sort of redemption. Nonetheless, when it comes to this fixture, Ireland have dominated proceedings and despite the new man in charge, the men in green still have enough firepower to overcome Scotland. The margin is going is be close but Ireland will win this by three points or more.
Ireland: 15 Jordan Larmour, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Johnny Sexton (captain), 9 Conor Murray, 8 Caelan Doris, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 CJ Stander, 5 James Ryan, 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Cian Healy
Replacements: 16 Ronan Kelleher, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Devin Toner, 20 Peter O’Mahony, 21 John Cooney, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Robbie Henshaw.
Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg (captain), 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 Blair Kinghorn , 10 Adam Hastings, 9 Ali Price, 8 Nick Haining, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Jamie Ritchie, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Scott Cummings, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 Fraser Brown, 1 Rory Sutherland.
Replacements: 16 Stuart McInally, 17 Allan Dell, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Ben Toolis, 20 Cornell du Preez, 21 George Horne, 22 Rory Hutchinson, 23 Chris Harris.
Date: Saturday, February 1
Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Kick-off: 16.45 (16.45 GMT)
Expected weather: Cloudy and cold with a high of 9°C and a low of 5°C
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant referees: Pascal Gaüzère (France), Federico Anselmi (Argentina)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)
AFP & @rugby365com
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