SCOTLAND coach, Scott Johnston, compared his side’s resurgence to the TV show Crime Scene Investigation (CSI). Johnston stated that Scotland showed ”fingerprints” of their development against England whilst victory of Italy provided “eye witnesses” to Scotland’s improvement but insists his team need to beat Ireland for the “police to come around” and consider Scotland as major players in this tournament.
Johnston has supplied the media with various colourful quotes and comparisons (most memorably when he compared statistics to a bikini when he said “statistics are like bikinis, they let you see a lot but not the whole thing”) that suggests the interim boss doesn’t take himself too seriously but behind the scenes he is doing a remarkable job to make Scotland competitive again amongst the world’s elite.
The clash against Ireland is one that Scotland will go into with huge confidence and optimism. The Scots are injury free and only make one change as Ewan Murray makes way for Geoff Cross because of the Tighthead Prop’s faith. Ireland are decimated with injuries to key players in key positions. Fly-Half Jonny Sexton is out with a hamstring problem and is replaced with 21 year old Paddy Jackson who will earn his first cap instead of Ronan O’Gara who received criticism when he came off the bench in Ireland’s defeat to England. Centres, Simon Zebo and Gordon D’Arcy are out with ankle injuries and Lock Mike McCarthy is out with a knee injury.
Suspended Cian Healey will be replaced by Tom Court. Court will be up against Geoff Cross in the scrum and it will be an interesting battle between two players who haven’t had the chance to start for their country of late. Scotland must look to dominate at fly and scrum half against Ireland to dictate the game. I suspect they’ll put debutant Paddy Jackson under pressure with the boot by closing him down quickly to test out his nerves. Greig Laidlaw has the ability to dominate kicking exchanges and gain territory. This area of the game was particularly weak last week for Ireland. England put them under pressure and they made countless handling and decision making errors.
Scotland have the most potent back 5 in the Northern Hemisphere and it will be exciting to see what they can do with the ball against Ireland. Our whole back row and both centres have scored at least one try each showing Scotland’s attacking ability and creativity. We have already scored 2 more tries than the whole of last year’s tournament. This Scotland side can take opportunities and score well, a facet that has eluded us since 1999. Scotland beat Italy because they did the basics correctly but Scotland need to back up their signs of improvement against proven opposition.
The only concern I had against Italy was the fact that we didn’t have the majority of possession and had to make more tackles than Italy. The forward battle is crucial in giving a talented backline an attacking platform. Scotland’s defence will need to be at it’s best to beat Ireland. There is no question of the forward effort but it has a tendency to switch off and concede penalties. Ireland can’t be allowed to dominate set-pieces, rucks and the contact area. If Scotland can gain territory by controlling the game through the boot of Laidlaw and the forwards can pin Ireland in then the backs are offered a sniff of a chance then with the talent and speed they have they will convert chances.
Scotland will play attacking, kicking rugby now which will hand Ireland possession but not territory if we defend well. The days of forward attrition are over not because it’s dated but because Scotland are able to play this brand of rugby with this fifteen. A good performance and result against Ireland will finally provide Scottish rugby fans the concrete evidence that Scottish rugby is heading in the right direction.