Tuesday 23 May 2017

Neil Francis: Resentment and anger won't be enough for Scots to take scalp

This will be a game of Cowboys and Indians but Ireland's chiefs will prove too strong

Conor Murray, centre, Simon Zebo, right, and Keith Earls of Ireland during squad training
Conor Murray, centre, Simon Zebo, right, and Keith Earls of Ireland during squad training
Neil Francis

Neil Francis

Neil Francis looks ahead to Ireland's Six Nations opener against Scotland.

Ho-ka hey! It is a good day to fight. It is a good day to die. Strong hearts. Brave hearts to the front! Weak hearts and cowards to the rear.

- Sioux Chief Crazy Horse

No need for self-help motivational speaking or sports psychologists here. Plain speaking rarely goes astray before battle. Brave as they were, the North American Indian ultimately failed to the white man because they were unable to harness that emotional fervour and burning aggression. The white man won out on superior technology, discipline and structure.

Maybe if the Indians had placed a travel ban on the English, Irish, Poles, Germans, Spanish and the French they'd still be in charge!

Saturday's game is Cowboys versus Indians. Scotland will be brave and will be dangerous but they don't have the firepower up front. Big Chief Crooked Leg sits in his tepee for this one - his absence will make the game more interesting but won't change the result. Organisation with and without the ball will see Ireland win but they must be clever to get this scalp.

The performance of Paddy Jackson will be crucial in the absence of Johnny Sexton. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
The performance of Paddy Jackson will be crucial in the absence of Johnny Sexton. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

I have no doubt this will be a tetchy affair stretching to ugly at times. Vern Cotter has made many improvements to this Scottish side - not enough evidently, as the SRU decided to bin him even before it got to the stage of beginning negotiations for a contract extension.

It is noticeable that Scotland have become a little bit meaner, with a touch more niggle in their engagement and they now play with an edge which has been missing for a while. Cotter gets the credit for that! And so you sense that the Scots have long resented the thumpings that have been handed out to them by Ireland over the last 15 years.

Embarrass

That 10-40 thrashing on the last day of the season two years ago in Murrayfield didn't seem to embarrass them too much as they folded their wigwams and pretty much let Ireland do what they wanted. That type of performance or result would not be tolerated now.

Scotland are a lot meaner now, fully focused and playing with a bit more zest and intelligence. They also seem to be talking themselves up big style and with good reason - they have a serious chance of winning this game. The winner of Saturday's game is the side that can control the pace of the game for the longest amount of time.

Scotland have some dangerous backs and can scare Ireland off first phase but to exploit Ireland they need to turn it into a game of helter-skelter and if they want to do that you need a dynamic ball-carrying back-row - Scotland have not really had one since Jeffrey, Calder and White.

PANews_N0465051372136865558A_I1.jpg
Johnnie Beattie has heaped praise on Samoa

The Killer Bs of Johnny Beattie (above), Kelly Brown and John Barclay were good but they never really killed anyone. John Barclay should be named in Scotland's back-row this afternoon - he has been good for the Scarlets and is enjoying a mild renaissance for Scotland but his game now is more about being a stopper and a destroyer.

His days of being an auxiliary, supplementing the back line are past him. Scotland need to win ball and retain it and they don't have a pack that will be able to win the quantity and quality of ball required to give their backs a decent chance.

WP Nel and Alastair Dickinson, their best scrummagers and first-choice props, are both long-term injuries. Gordon Reid and Zander Fagerson have been getting good write-ups, Fagerson particularly so because of his youthful exuberance.

Let's see how their exuberance is after the first six scrums or so. I would say Joe Schmidt and Greg Feek were sitting down for breakfast, lunch and dinner just to get the scrum point across. The weather is not supposed to be good. There could be more than 15 scrums in this game. If it was me I would be looking to go after the Scottish scrum.

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When you play Six Nations rugby it is a good day when your scrum holds out in Paris and Twickenham but if you can go anywhere and apply pressure away from home, it just doesn't give you a toe-hold into the game - but a foundation stone on which to give confidence. If your scrum goes well away from home, it infects the mood of the rest of the home team. Ireland's first point of attack is at scrum time. Scotland have a decent lineout in the form of the Gray brothers. I saw recently on one of the rugby websites somebody making a case for Johnny Gray as the Lions test second-row. I must ring Wazza and find out where I am in the pecking order!

It is what happens after lineout ball is won that is important. Scotland don't have a maul and they rarely try to use it. Scotland also don't have a lineout maul defence and they will have known what is coming from weeks away what the Irish forwards will do.

I look at the likely Scottish pack and wonder where the firepower is - where the destructive carriers are going to come from and where they can do damage to Ireland's pack. If they don't subdue Ireland up front, they won't win this match.

Monopolise

Andy Farrell has a big role to play as well. Scotland hold onto the ball pretty well and have the confidence to retain it phase after phase. They might not be going anywhere with it but while they monopolise the ball you can't score.

If Ireland drift and soft-push them to the outside it will be a long boring afternoon. An aggressive blitz defence is imperative and don't let them near the gain-line. Once the Scottish pack have to come back around to win the ball again two or three times, there will be no option but to kick. Let them a metre over and they will go 25 phases and eat up five minutes of the clock.

Finn Russell has quite an array of chip kicks and dinks over the line but Ireland know that. Ireland do not want a fast and loose game and the trick is not to get suckered into one.

This is where Johnny Sexton will be missed the most. There is nobody better than he to take the wind out of an opposition team's sails by pinning them back into the corner or deep into their own '22 and they have to start again - it's hard to play fizz-buzz from deep. Paddy Jackson can do it as well but not with the same authority. Russell also kicks well tactically when his team need to play territory.

Scotland for the first time since 1999 scored more points than they conceded (in 2016). They are a dangerous outfit behind the scrum and will cause Ireland difficulties. The job to be done is to make sure there is no scrum for them. No consistent forward platform.

Ireland's pack to get the job done! PS: Congrats to Rob Forbes and St Fintan's High School, Sutton who were marvellously competitive against Clongowes and just came up short on the shock result of the decade.

Irish Independent

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