Ireland v Scotland: Team named for crunch Six Nations clash

Andy Farrell has made three changes for Saturday's showdown at the Aviva but as Derek Daly argues an improved return from the scrum will be key
Ireland v Scotland: Team named for crunch Six Nations clash

James Lowe of Ireland breaks with the ball against England at Twickenham. Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images

IRELAND were scintillating for the first 10 minutes of their Six Nations victory over England last Saturday, and extremely efficient and professional when killing off the tie in the last 10 minutes, but the hour in between was pretty poor fare.

As Ireland face into their final Six Nations tie against Scotland the big question is as to which version of Ireland we will see on Saturday.

IRELAND: 

H Keenan (Leinster); M Hansen (Connacht), G Ringrose (Leinster), B Aki (Connacht), J Lowe (Leinster); J Sexton (Leinster, c), J Gibson-Park (Leinster); C Healy, D Sheehan (Leinster), T Furlong (Leinster); T Beirne (Munster), I Henderson (Ulster); C Doris (Leinster), J van der Flier (Leinster), J Conan (Leinster).

Replacements: R Herring (Ulster), D Kilcoyne (Munster), F Bealham (Connacht), K Treadwell (Ulster), P O’Mahony (Munster), C Murray (Munster), J Carbery (Munster), R Henshaw (Leinster).

SCOTLAND: 

S Hogg (Exeter, c); D Graham (Edinburgh), C Harris (Gloucester), S Johnson (Glasgow), K Steyn (Glasgow); B Kinghorn (Edinburgh), A Price (Glasgow); P Schoeman (Edinburgh), G Turner (Glasgow), Z Fagerson (Glasgow); J Gray (Exeter), G Gilchrist (Edinburgh); R Darge (Glasgow), H Watson (Edinburgh), Z Fagerson (Glasgow).

Replacements: F Brown (Glasgow), A Dell (London Irish), WP Nel (Edinburgh), S Skinner (Exeter), J Bayliss (Bath), B White (London Irish), F Russell (Racing 92), M Bennett (Edinburgh).

It is to Ireland’s credit that they got the job done at Twickenham and even secured the four-try bonus point with two late tries from Jack Conan and Finlay Bealham, but 14-man England dominated from minutes 20 to 70 and you have to seriously doubt that Ireland would have won if Charlie Ewels had not received that second-minute red card.

Arguably the main talking point coming out of the win in Twickenham was the manner in which the Irish scrum was completely dismantled by the English front row.
Six scrum penalties were conceded over the course of the 80 minutes, which is an astonishing total at this level.

All in all, Ireland conceded 15 penalties in the game. Obviously, the scrum travails seriously skew that stat but is a worrying number nonetheless. 

Andy Farrell can probably take that number with a pinch of salt though, as the referee’s approach to the game was probably heavily influenced by the early sending off to Ewels, as it is human nature to try and appease a home crowd somewhat, regardless of the fact that it was a completely warranted red card.

There is no need to press the panic button just yet with regards the scrum issues and the high penalty count. In reality, some of the penalties blown against Ireland would have been blown for Ireland on another day. However, if the Irish front row experiences similar issues tomorrow then there will be cause for concern, as you would expect Scotland to target Ireland in the exact same manner Ellis Genge and friends did last week. In saying that, you would expect Ireland scrum coach John Fogarty to have been extremely busy ironing out any kinks in the armour this week.

Ireland conceded 17 turnovers against 14-man England which was far too high a figure on the day, given the scrum issues that Ireland were experiencing, as each scrum was practically a guaranteed penalty.However, Ireland are clearly attempting to be more expansive in their play so risk-taking should be encouraged.

Ireland's Finlay Bealham scores a try last weekend. Picture: PA
Ireland's Finlay Bealham scores a try last weekend. Picture: PA

The players have got to feel comfortable enough to play what is in front of them. Perhaps some of the decision-making and execution can be improved upon, but we certainly will not be expecting Farrell to be asking his players to wind it in a bit when it comes to trying things.

France may be on the brink of a Grand Slam, but Ireland have outscored them in terms of points scored and tries scored, with Ireland’s 20 tries in four games putting them a full six tries ahead of free-flowing France’s total.

Whatever issues Ireland may have at the moment, their attacking play is not one of them.

We can expect one or two changes this weekend with the likes of Robbie Henshaw and Jack Conan putting their hands up for inclusion due to their impressive late cameos.

There might also be a change due in the front row. Cian Healy missed two of his five attempted tackles, made only one carry for zero yards gained, and he was a major part of Ireland’s scrum woes. At 34 years of age his race looks run as an international class prop and David Kilcoyne is entitled to feel that the Ireland no. 1 shirt should be his for this clash against Scotland.

An indirect positive to emerge from Twickenham was that Ireland can now expect England to go to Paris with a sense of confidence and purpose given the impressive manner of their resistance.

Jack Conan of Ireland is tackled by Max Malins of England. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Jack Conan of Ireland is tackled by Max Malins of England. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Suddenly, an English win to foil France’s Grand Slam bid does not look like a completely impossible task, although their tries total of seven in four games will have to drastically improve if Eddie Jones’ side are going to have any chance of pulling off an upset.

The Ireland v Scotland match occurs a few hours before the showdown in Paris so all Ireland can do is get the job done at their end, beat Scotland and put the pressure back on the French. Given how they have effectively blown the championship in the last two years there is bound to be significant pressure on France, and there’s no better team than England to try and spoil that party.

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