Tuesday 22 October 2019

Alan Quinlan: 'Ireland need to bully Scots - front five dominance crucial to avoid early disaster'

Analysis

Tadhg Furlong on the charge against Scotland in the Six Nations last February. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Tadhg Furlong on the charge against Scotland in the Six Nations last February. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Alan Quinlan

Alan Quinlan

We can't say we weren't warned. Before I was beamed 30 floors up to my hotel room in Tokyo, I had already been advised not to make a fuss if I felt the building sway underneath me - "it's meant to do that".

If the earthquake doesn't rattle at least 5.5 on the Richter scale, don't expect anyone to so much as put their coffee down, my Chief of Terror explained, with a glint in his eye and a typically warm smile on his face as he soaked up my instinctive eyebrow-raise.

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Jet-lagged and a little weary, I was then jabbed with a carrot-and-stick combination.

The typhoon season concludes at the end of September, I was reliably informed, but, on average, there are nine more storms to ride out before the Japanese public can get some peace of mind from these turbulent weather cycles.

Disaster may loom all around in Japan, but in the vastness of a bustling metropolis the size of Tokyo, most people are just busy getting on with things.

In a similar vein, you could easily be living your daily life in the world's largest city and still be somewhat oblivious to the fact that the 2019 Rugby World Cup has already got its opening-night nerves out of the way.

This is my second time in Japan, having played in Tokyo and Osaka on a two-Test Ireland tour to the Land of the Rising Sun in 2005.

So, to some extent, I knew what to expect this week. But, in terms of a Rugby World Cup, and this is my third tournament as a pundit, equalling my tally as a player, it is other-worldly from Europe and Australasia. The sights, the sounds, the smells.

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This buzz is different, but in a good way.

Ireland's players might still be adjusting to these quirky, futuristic surroundings but the sight of a Gregor Townsend-coached Scottish side on the other side of halfway should help them feel right at home.

It may be new territory for many of this Irish squad but there is nothing unfamiliar about the opening challenge that awaits them.

The blueprint must remain the same; dictate terms by bullying them up front. Suck the life out of the Scottish will to throw the ball around by starving them of possession, and stay connected in defence when they do get a chance to run at you.

Scotland can cause plenty of problems for any side in the world but Ireland have an advantage in the pack, particularly in the front five, and they need to make that count tomorrow.

The set-piece should offer excellent attacking platforms for Ireland, assuming the lineout, and therefore the maul, functions efficiently after some warm-up spasms.

Having said that, Scotland won't fear Ireland. They never do.

It doesn't matter how many world ranking spots are between the sides, or how many more club and international medals the Irish players have, Scotland always fancy their chances.

I went for a walk around Shinjuku, the vibrant Tokyo ward we are getting our city bearings in, with Scott Hastings on Thursday evening and I could sense as much from the man I will be sharing ITV co-commentary duties with tomorrow.

You can be certain, too, that the Scots have watched the 2017 Six Nations win at Murrayfield again in the build-up to this, and have been reminded of the Irish delight after the Celtic neighbours were drawn alongside each other in the first place.

Glasgow have built up spicy rivalries with Leinster and Munster in recent seasons across the PRO14 and Champions Cup, so there will be plenty of players with scores to settle.

And the manner in which their 2015 World Cup ended - Craig Joubert's late blunder potentially costing them a semi-final spot - will be another constant motivating factor in Japan, with Stuart Hogg, Sean Maitland, Tommy Seymour, Finn Russell, Greig Laidlaw, WP Nel and Johnny Gray still in situ from that defeat to Australia.

Townsend's side will be licking their lips and desperate to race out of the blocks in Yokohama in the hope of building an early lead, just like they did in that success under Vern Cotter two-and-a-half years ago.

They caused Ireland plenty of problems in this year's Six Nations too, a couple of errors at critical moments proving costly in their nine-point Murrayfield defeat.

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Hogg left the field with a shoulder injury just 17 minutes into that game, when the visitors led 5-3, and he will need to be watched closely tomorrow, along with the likes of Maitland, Russell, John Barclay and Hamish Watson.

I'm sure Scotland will look to put the ball up for the 6ft 2ins Maitland to test out the aerial ability of Ireland's new-look back-three; Russell's willingness to try things in attack always makes him fascinating to watch, even if his unpredictability at times appears to simultaneously be his greatest strength and flaw; and the latter two, as ever, will lead Scotland's shrewd scrap on the floor, looking to flick spokes into the Irish wheel.

Barclay knows all the tricks of the trade and you couldn't meet a nicer fella off the field. He's as cute as they come; an expert at blocking opponents, coming in from the side and pushing the boundaries. He loves making a nuisance of himself, it's no wonder I appreciate his talents so much.

For all of their backline talent, Watson might just be the star of the Scottish show. A wiry back-row by modern standards, he is a strong carrier, as fit as a fiddle and a breakdown master in the mould of the great Wallaby George Smith.

As we saw in Scotland's remarkable draw in Twickenham last spring, Russell has the vision and deep passing game to punish defenders shooting out of the line, so Ireland will need to stay disciplined, connected and patient when without the ball.

Despite some good results under Townsend, and he has done a good job overall in my opinion, their inconsistency, particularly away from home, has been an issue.

Ireland, on the other hand, have a game-plan that works time after time, particularly against Scotland, if they nail the basics.

Do that, and we can leave the disaster talk to the locals.

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