Scotland v Ireland - Teams and Prediction
SIX NATIONS, ROUND FOUR: Ireland captain Johnny Sexton has warned his side they will be up against the best Scotland team of the Six Nations era when they continue the quest for a coveted Grand Slam at Murrayfield on Sunday.
Ireland, the only unbeaten nation left in this season’s tournament, have dominated the fixture in recent years with 11 wins from the past 12 matches against their Celtic rivals.
Scotland, however, are enjoying a revival under coach Gregor Townsend.
They started this Six Nations with wins over England and Wales before a defeat by reigning champions France scuppered their bid for a clean sweep.
Nevertheless, a return to winning ways in Edinburgh this weekend would see Scotland secure a first Triple Crown since 1990.
The Triple Crown is the reward for winning all three matches against the other “home” nations – England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales – in the tournament.
“Definitely the best Scottish team we’ve played against,” said Sexton. “Probably since the Six Nations started, it’s the best Scottish team.
“It will be a really, really tough game and it will probably be our toughest of the championship so far.”
Ireland have secured just three Grand Slams in their history, the last in 2018.
But they travel to Edinburgh on the back of bonus-point wins over Wales, France and Italy.
“I spoke before the Wales game – if we lost it’s Triple Crown gone, Grand Slam gone. Championship: you’re under pressure straight away,” said Sexton.
“We still have them in our grasp so we obviously acknowledge and talk about it and make sure that we deal with the pressure that comes with that but it’s a privileged position to be going for it.”
Flyhalf Sexton and centre Garry Ringrose, who both missed the round-three win in Italy, are back in the side after recovering from injuries.
Up front, prop Tadhg Furlong returns in place of the injured Finlay Bealham, having not played competitively since Leinster’s 38-29 victory over Ulster on December 3 but has been passed fit following a calf issue.
Despite a 99-day gap between appearances, Ireland head coach Farrell had no qualms about Furlong’s readiness for Test rugby.
“Some players can and some players can’t and he’s across his detail like no other,” Ireland coach Andy Farrell said of Furlong.
“Tadhg doesn’t have to tear himself apart mentally to try and make sure that he gets up to speed because he’s already figured it out.”
Stuart Hogg will win his 100th Scotland cap on Sunday, with the 30-year-old fullback lauded as one his country’s greatest players by Townsend.
“It’s very well deserved,” said Townsend. “He [Hogg] has been one of our best players over the last 10 years but also in the history of Scottish rugby.”
Sunday’s match has added significance because number one-ranked Ireland and fifth-place Scotland have been drawn in the same group at the September-October World Cup in France with holders South Africa. Only two teams from each pool advance to the quarterfinals.
Although, with the talented Finn Russell leading at flyhalf, Scotland have an attack to test any defence, Townsend was in no doubt of the scale of their latest challenge.
“It’s the best Ireland team we’ve faced,” he said.
“They’re on the back of a lot of big wins and they’ve got their strongest team they could probably put out to play us this weekend, so – while we’ve improved – we’ve got more improvement in us and we’re going up against a team that’s on top of their game.”
Watch out for that Finntercept. It’ll get ya. #GuinnessSixNations | #SCOvIRE pic.twitter.com/x1YotkF00U
— Guinness Six Nations (@SixNationsRugby) March 10, 2023
Players to watch:
For Scotland: Sunday will be a big day for Stuart Hogg who will be playing his 100th Test for Scotland. His experience means so much to Scotland and he will surely be bringing something extra to the game. Centre Huw Jones is enjoying a renaissance on the international stage. His defence out wide is better, but it is his attacking game that will give the Irish some big problems out wide. Wing Duhan van Der Merwe is a big presence in the backline and if Scotland can give him enough ball then he could do some serious damage. Flyhalf Finn Russell has been excellent in managing things out wide and he could be the difference between winning and losing. In the pack, former Wallabies forward Jack Dempsey will make his first Six Nations start at No.8 and he has the grunt needed in the physical exchanges. South African-born prop Pierre Schoeman will also have a big scrum battle on his hands when he comes up against Tadhg Furlong.
For Ireland: Captain Johnny Sexton is back in the No.10 jersey and he is a proven match-winner when it comes to big games like this. Garry Ringrose also returns to the midfield to bring some stability on defence and give Ireland some extra guile on attack. Ireland will also have plenty of speed out wide in the back three in the form of Hugo Keenan, Mack Hansen and James Lowe. The last one on that list, Lowe, can make something happen out of nothing and that is why he is so dangerous with ball in hand. In the pack, Josh van der Flier is an incredible athlete. He does all the basics well and he can be a danger in the breakdowns as well. Peter O’Mahony knows how to win a turnover and he will be asked to disrupt Scotland’s ball at every chance he gets. All eyes will also be on Tadhg Furlong, who is a world-class scrummager. He is also a powerhouse when he gets some momentum with ball in hand.
Last 10 encounters
@rugby365com: Ireland by four points.
Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Kyle Steyn, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Sione Tuipulotu, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ben White, 8 Jack Dempsey, 7 Luke Crosbie, 6 Jamie Ritchie (captain), 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 George Turner, 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Replacements: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Jamie Bhatti, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Scott Cummings, 20 Hamish Watson, 21 Ali Price, 22 Blair Kinghorn, 23 Chris Harris.
Ireland: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Mack Hansen, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 James Lowe, 10 Johnny Sexton (captain), 9 Conor Murray, 8 Caelan Doris, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 James Ryan, 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Dan Sheehan, 1 Andrew Porter
Replacements: 16 Ronan Kelleher, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Tom O’Toole, 19 Ryan Baird, 20 Jack Conan, 21 Jamison Gibson park, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Robbie Henshaw.
Date: Sunday, March 12
Venue: Murrayfield, Edinburgh
Kick-off: 15.00 (15.00 GMT)
Expected weather: It will be cloudy with rain developing later. There will be a high of 11°C and a low of 5°C.
Referee: Luke Pearce (England)
Assistant Referees: Wayne Barnes (England) & Christophe Ridley (England)
TMO: Stuart Terheege (England)
AFP & @rugby365com