Sport Rugby

Wednesday 24 January 2018

Pack have to provide platform for O'Gara

Ireland's backline is the superior one but they will need their forwards to front up, says Jim Glennon

Jim Glennon

Two coaches, under similar types of pressure, come face to face today with a view to salvaging something from their season and both have identified this game as being their primary opportunity to do so.

Scotland's Andy Robinson has had something of a mixed bag in terms of quality so far. In their first outing, his side were torn apart at times by France yet still managed to impress when in possession. It's very much a case of the less said the better about their non-performance a week later at home to Wales. They were simply awful.

Declan Kidney has a different type of mixed bag to look back on: a poor performance against Italy was followed by a significant improvement against France. However, his side outscored the French by three tries to one, yet still came out on the wrong side of the result.

As against Italy, indiscipline was a major issue, both at the breakdown and the scrum. In both instances, the respective referees have come under the spotlight and while there may be some justification in this, the bottom line is that the opposition seemed to have little difficulty in staying within the laws.

As far as selection is concerned, Robinson has wielded the axe with seven changes from the Welsh game, only two of them enforced by injury. The most significant of all is the entirely new half-back combination of Mike Blair and Ruaridh Jackson. Robinson's commitment to a change of playing style is admirable but one wonders about the capacity of Jackson, in the pivotal position, to deliver what is needed.

Similarly, Declan Kidney has changed his half-back pairing, although he only made one other change which was injury-facilitated with the return of Tommy Bowe. Ronan O'Gara and Eoin Reddan are preferred to Jonathan Sexton and Tomás O'Leary -- who is still suffering from a back injury. O'Leary came in for criticism in his two appearances while O'Gara made a real impact when sprung from the bench in both games.

Like Robinson, Kidney is overhauling the way his team plays the game and the first couple of outings probably erred on the side of experimentation.

The selection of O'Gara particularly can be taken as indicator that there will be a requirement for much greater balance, specifically the construction of a platform, on which the more expansive game can be played.

One only has to look back at the corresponding game in Croke Park last season when Ireland set out to play Barbarian-style rugby from the start. They failed to take the mental precaution of building the superiority on which that expansive game can be developed.

Ireland's scrum will again be under the microscope, although it shouldn't be under the pressure of recent weeks. The line-out will equally be under some pressure as the Scots aren't short of height and Ireland have been having some difficulty, particularly at the tail.

For Scotland, the seven changes don't inspire confidence. For example, the selection of Sean Lamont at 12. While he is a top-class footballer, his distribution skills leave something to be desired at this level.

He will be targeting O'Gara at every opportunity and Gordon d'Arcy won't be immune from attention either after some difficulties in recent weeks.

Having said that Ireland's backline is undoubtedly a superior entity and if the forwards can establish the necessary platform, then the backs will expect to reap the dividend.

There was a time when Murrayfield was a happy hunting ground for Ireland. Not in recent years though and the Irish pack would need to be very much on form with O'Gara playing his kicking game from the top drawer early on if we are to come away with a win.

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