Wednesday 23 October 2019

Des Berry: 'Why Scotland's Twin Turbos could torpedo Ireland in Yokohama'

Finn Russell of Scotland will have a big say against Ireland. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Finn Russell of Scotland will have a big say against Ireland. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Des Berry

Tropical storm Tapah is making its’ way mercilessly towards Japan.

Rough seas. High winds. Flash-flooding. Mud slides. They are all possible consequences of typhoon season in the Far East.

At the moment, it looks like Ireland and Scotland might escape the worst of what is forecasted.

However, the combination of heat and high humidity and rain, slight or slashing, would make a high-stakes gambler hedge his bets.

Wiping everything else clean, it is highly likely the ball will be wet and difficult to master along the line and out of the air.

Apparently, the Scots have even gone so far as to use shampoo to grease the ball at training.

Gregor Townsend was always a mercurial, maverick out-half, one who played, not just thought, outside the box.

The genial Scot has carried that can of creativity into coaching, always looking to keep players on their feet, moving the point of attack to unbalance the opposition.

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The twin-turbos of their attack are Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg and they need no invitation to cut you open like a surgeon.

They do not rely on a multi-phase process where the defence has to be pulled out of shape and numbers exhausted.

They can simply gash with one imaginative flash from the out-half or a one of those superior lines from the full-back.

No one will easily forget Russell’s ball-beating-man candidate for ‘Pass of the Century’ that led to Sean Maitland’s try against England at Murrayfield in 2018.

There are few who would have seen it, never mind have had the audacity to throw it.

It is this fearless, open-minded attitude to the game, backed up by unique gifts, that has enabled Russell to shred the best organised defences in the game.

The caveat, of course, is that it can also get Scotland into a world of trouble when someone, eh like Jacob Stockdale, picks off one of those glory balls, even though there is a lot more to Russell’s repertoire.

It was no shock when the out-half immediately struck up a telepathic understanding with Simon Zebo at Racing 92.

In this case, creative minds think alike.

On international duty, Scotland just exchanges Hogg for Zebo and away they go.

Should Scotland’s front five, led by captain Stuart McInally, stand the test of time and their loose forwards, John Barclay and Hamish Watson, protect their ruck ball, those slippery suckers can cause mayhem.    

The presumption is that Ireland’s strategy will be less compromised by an inclement inconvenience.

That was also the impression when they travelled to Cardiff to ruin their Grand Slam plan in March.

Coach Joe Schmidt’s refusal to close the roof came back to haunt Ireland when they went behind early and could not recover the ground lost.

That same failure to get out of the traps aggressively, coherently, fluidly against Scotland at Murrayfield in 2017 came at a cost.  

The opening quarter will be revealing, if not quite decisive, Ireland knowing this is no place to ease your way in.

The complication of the weather conditions could well play in Scotland’s favour.

For Ireland have instituted a possession game that requires the ball to be held through phases, placing maximum value on efficient handling.

This is more demanding and more open to error when passes are less inclined to stick.

The option for Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton to hoist balls out of defence for Hogg comes with maximum risk should they drift too long or the chasers fail to get to the speedster in time.

There is also the problem on the other end of the ball where it would be remiss of Russell not to rain bombs down on Jordan Larmour, rather than Andrew Conway.

The commitment of Schmidt to Larmour has been consistent and a subject of great debate in that undoubted potential has not yet been fully realised.

Larmour will have to show that the defensive aspect of his game is meeting that of his attacking arsenal, especially in the air.

In a match bound to swing on big moments, Russell and Hogg must be denied theirs.

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