Scotland v Ireland - teams and predictions
STEEP CLIMB: Scotland coach Gregor Townsend is bracing for three Six Nations matches in three weeks, saying he expects the coronavirus-delayed fixture against France to take place on March 26.
The Scots play Ireland at Murrayfield on Sunday and were meant to finish the championship at home to Italy on March 20.
But their scheduled February 28 clash against France in Paris was postponed because of a Covid-19 outbreak in the French camp.
No new date has yet been announced by Six Nations chiefs but there has been widespread speculation the game will now take place at the Stade de France on March 26, which is a Friday.
That, however, would leave Scotland needing to secure the release of skipper Stuart Hogg from reigning English and European champions Exeter as well as star flyhalf Finn Russell from Paris-based Racing 92.
In normal circumstances, regulations mean clubs must release players for Six Nations matches. But with a March 26 match taking place outside the tournament’s designated window, that rule would no longer apply.
“We know there’s a date that’s out there on the 26th that would suit everybody,” Townsend said on Friday after naming his team.
“There are still things that have to be sorted, getting all our players available and the agreement to release them from clubs in England and France.
“I believe those discussions are ongoing.
“It’s not going to be my decision on this but for a tournament of the standing of the Six Nations we need the best players playing against the best players available.”
Scotland was one of several teams who received a 28-0 walkover during last year’s year-end Nations Cup when Fiji pulled out of a scheduled match because of Covid issues within their camp.
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‘Want the game played’
But Townsend said he had no qualms about the lack of a similar rule within the Six Nations.
“You could follow all the rules, the protocols, but you could still get the virus into your camp – we have a situation where our players are coming from other teams every second week,” he said.
“We want the game played, so do France and let’s hope it gets played in the next few weeks.”
Scotland have won just one of their past 10 matches against Ireland, with the pain of December’s 31-16 year-end Nations Cup loss in Dublin still fresh in their minds.
“In the Nations Cup we were 9-3 up and playing really good rugby,” said Townsend.
“We know it’s going to be a real physical contest and that Ireland will have some time in our 22. We just have to make sure they don’t come away with points on a regular basis and we must make sure we take our chances when we get them.”
Players to watch
For Scotland: Townsend has made four changes to the team that suffered an agonising 25-24 loss at home to Wales last month following Scotland’s first win over England at Twickenham in 38 years. Willem Nel is set to make his first Scotland start since the 2019 World Cup after being brought in to replace the banned Zander Fagerson. Fellow prop Fagerson was given a four-game suspension after being sent off for his head-high challenge on Wales’s Wyn Jones. Elsewhere, wing Sean Maitland, inside centre Sam Johnson and back-row Jamie Ritchie have replaced Darcy Graham, James Lang and Blade Thomson.
For Ireland: Jamison Gibson-Park has a chance to strengthen his claim to be Ireland’s first-choice scrumhalf after being picked ahead of the experienced Conor Murray. The New Zealand-born Leinster No.9 has started the previous two matches, the 15-13 defeat by France and the 48-10 thumping of Italy, with Murray struggling with a hamstring problem. South Africa-born Christiaan Stander reaches his own landmark with his 50th Test cap while his Munster teammate Keith Earls returns to the starting line-up on the wing at the expense of Jordan Larmour. Prop Dave Kilcoyne and hooker Ronan Kelleher drop to the bench.
Head to head
The most significant and also intrioguing face-off is at flyhalf – the enigmatic Finn Russell (Scotland) against veteran Johnny Sexton (Ireland). These two generals will be directing the warriors in this war. There will also be an interesting contest between Scotland left wing Duhan van der Merwe and Ireland’s right wing Keith Earls. However, without the ball none of the backs can do their magic -0 which leaves us with the set-piece battle – Jonny Gray, Scott Cummings, Willem Nel, George Turner and Rory Sutherland (Scotland) against James Ryan, Iain Henderson, Tadhg Furlong, Rob Herring and Cian Healy (Ireland).
@rugby365com: Ireland by seven points
Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg (captain), 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ali Price, 8 Matt Fagerson, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Jamie Ritchie, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Scott Cummings, 3 Willem Nel, 2 George Turner, 1 Rory Sutherland.
Replacements: 16 David Cherry, 17 Jamie Bhatti, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Grant Gilchrist, 20 Nick Haining, 21 Scott Steele, 22 Huw Jones, 23 Darcy Graham.
Ireland: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 James Lowe, 10 Johnny Sexton (captain), 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Will Connors, 6 Tadhg Beirne, 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 Ryan Baird, 20 Jack Conan, 21 Conor Murray, 22 Billy Burns, 23 Jordan Larmour.
Date: Sunday, March 14
Venue: Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh
Kick-off: 15.00 (15.00 GMT)
Expected weather: Light rain and a moderate breeze. High og 9°C and low of 4°C
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant referees: Mathieu Raynal (France), Andrea Piardi (Italy)
TMO: Alex Ruiz (France)
- Additional reporting by @rugby365com
- Picture credit: @SixNationsRugby