Ireland v Scotland - Teams and Prediction
SIX NATIONS, ROUND FIVE: Ireland winning the Triple Crown by beating Scotland on Saturday will leave the players feeling hollow if France achieve the Six Nations Grand Slam, former Ireland fullback Hugo MacNeill told AFP.
MacNeill says the satisfaction of lifting the first silverware since head coach Andy Farrell took over after the 2019 World Cup will be tempered by missing out on topping the table.
France host England after the Irish have played the Scots with the French tails up to win the title for the first time since 2010.
The odds are it will end the same as the 2004 tournament when the French secured the Grand Slam and the Irish the Triple Crown at home – the last time they won a trophy in Dublin.
“I think the Triple Crown without the championship does not mean that much really,” he told AFP by phone on Wednesday.
“These guys are not going to be overly happy finishing second in a six-man race.
“When we won the Triple Crown in 1982 [their first since 1949] and ’85 we also won the championship in those two years.”
The 63-year-old 37-times capped MacNeill – who also played three Tests for the British and Irish Lions on the 1983 tour of New Zealand – says though his heart would love Ireland to be champions it would not reflect the present status amongst Northern Hemisphere nations.
“I think France is clearly the best team in the tournament,” he said.
“Ireland are a good side and have made progress and I am very pleased by that.
“But there is still a gap between them [Ireland and France] in terms of developing the game and an attacking platform.”
MacNeill says Ireland are helped by the “bedrock” of their rugby system an excellent schools set-up – he treasures his Leinster Schools Rugby Senior Cup title with Blackrock College in 1977 above all other trophies he won.
‘So many wise heads’
He adds that the competitiveness of the Irish provinces at European level is also a factor in helping developing top class players ready for the Test arena.
“Ireland are going in the right direction with a good ethic and a lot of building within the team,” he said.
“The rivalry of the provinces competitively is enabling Ireland to compete at a higher level in international tournaments.
“The step up to Test level if you are playing for sides that are regularly competing for top prizes is not so great.
“It is tougher if you are Italy as you cannot step up from Benetton and Zebre to the national jersey and expect great things when they as clubs are getting beaten regularly on the European stage.”
MacNeill believes that is also why the Irish have the upper hand against the Scots and is impressed at how Wales have bucked that trend of under performing regions at European level but are still able to be a force in the Six Nations.
“Scotland can beat Ireland as they beat England it is just harder to do so.
“The club system has to be competitive and there has to be an expectation of winning.
“The expectation at Leinster is to win and be competitive every year.
“That spills over into the Test arena.”
Scotland have come to Dublin before and ruined the party – in 2010 they caused an upset denying the Irish a Triple Crown and allowed them to avoid the ignominy of a wooden spoon.
“This Irish side there are strong people involved,” he said.
“Johnny Sexton, Paul O’Connell [captain and forwards coach who both played in 2010] and Andy Farrell and they won’t be complacent.
“Ireland should win if they pick up where they left off at Twickenham [32-15 win over a 14-man England last Saturday].
“It is very difficult for Scotland with so many wise heads in the Ireland squad.”
The match will be a real test of Scotland flyhalf Blair Kinghorn’s credentials as he has been given the nod by Gregor Townsend, who dropped Finn Russell.
“I prefer to focus on what Blair has done and how well he’s played and deserved this opportunity – which he certainly has in his performances throughout this season,” said Townsend.
Players to watch:
For Ireland: In the back three, Mack Hansen returns to the team and together with James Lowe, Ireland have the speed to run Scotland raged in Dublin. Flyhalf and captain Johnny Sexton is an old head in a pivotal position and he will know how to guide his team to victory, especially if it gets tight. Ireland have a fantastic back row and a player like Josh van der Flier has the all-round game to be influential on attack and on defence. There are also some experienced campaigners in the front row like Tadgh Furlong, who is a monster in the scrums.
For Scotland: Finn Russell’s demotion to the bench dominated headlines on Thursday, so all eyes will be on Blair Kinghorn in the No.10 jersey on Saturday. Kinghorn is physically bigger than Russell and he is set to bring something different to the playmaker role. Fullback and captain Stuart Hogg has received quite a bit of criticism in recent weeks, but he is still Scotland’s biggest attacking weapon out wide and someone Ireland will be worried about. Also, keep an eye out for youngster Rory Darge in the back row. It looks like he has a big future ahead of him.
@rugby365com: Ireland by 10 points.
Ireland: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Mack Hansen, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 James Lowe, 10 Johnny Sexton (captain), 9 Jamison Gibson Park, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Caelan Doris, 5 Iain Henderson, 4 Tadhg Beirne, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Dan Sheehan, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Kieran Treadwell, 20 Peter O’Mahony, 21 Conor Murray, 22 Joey Carbery, 23 Robbie Henshaw.
Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg (captain), 14 Darcy Graham, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 Kyle Steyn, 10 Blair Kinghorn, 9 Ali Price, 8 Matt Fagerson, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Rory Darge, 5 Grant Gilchrist, 4 Jonny Gray, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 George Turner, 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Replacements: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Allan Dell, 18 WP Nel, 19 Sam Skinner, 20 Josh Bayliss, 21 Ben White, 22 Finn Russell, 23 Mark Bennett.
Date: Saturday, March 19
Venue: Lansdowne Road, Dublin
Kick-off: 16.45 (16.45 GMT)
Expected weather: It will be sunny with a strong breeze. High of 13°C and a low of 6°C.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Karl Dickson (England), Christophe Ridley (France)
TMO: Stuart Terheege (England)
AFP & @rugby365com