Thursday 22 February 2018

Five talking points ahead of Scotland v Ireland in Six Nations finale

The Ireland team push a rolling maul towards the Scottish try line during last year's game at the Aviva Stadium.
The Ireland team push a rolling maul towards the Scottish try line during last year's game at the Aviva Stadium.

Nick Purewal

Ireland can retain their RBS 6 Nations title with a hefty victory over Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday.

Here are five key talking points that could underscore the contest.

Friends, coaches, rivals and masters of deception

Ireland boss Joe Schmidt and Scotland coach Vern Cotter boast a friendship and coaching partnership spanning the last decade.

Schmidt has claimed their relationship will not "colour" this Test - but that was only days after admitting he would try to exploit his inside knowledge of his old mate.

Schmidt used his friendship with former Clermont coaching partner Cotter to try to downplay any chance of exploiting his relationship with Wales boss Warren Gatland.

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Joe Schmidt, pictured, has been backed to team up with old colleague Vern Cotter with the All Blacks

The Ireland coach is the sultan of subterfuge when it comes to putting on a public facade, and scheming away in the opposite direction behind it.

Cotter is just as adept at misdirection, if rather more blunt about it.

The two coaches have the same basic playbook, and will doubtless try to pull the rug out from under each other.

Can Ireland retain their title?

For the second year running the Six Nations falls down to points difference, assuming Wales beat Italy, Ireland see off Scotland and England dispatch France.

Ireland tiptoed past France in Paris to claim the title last year and send Brian O'Driscoll into fairytale retirement, but Schmidt's men are not in the box seat this time around.

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Brian O'Driscoll with the Six Nations trophy after the match at the Stade de France

If Wales hammer Italy Ireland will have to chase a serious points glut victory over Scotland, while England will know exactly what they need to do come kick-off against France.

England start the day arguably slight favourites, with Wales facing the biggest chase.

Ireland's lack of attacking invention caused their 23-16 defeat in Wales - the pressure is now on for Schmidt's men to deliver on the front foot.

Can Scotland avoid the wooden spoon?

New coach Cotter has overseen a commendable revamp of the Scotland team, with fresh attacking impetus adding true verve.

Glasgow's in-form crop of fluent backs have been given their heads, and duly opened up an exciting brand of rugby to buck the grinding trend espoused across the rest of the Six Nations.

The trouble is, right now, turgid wins Tests.

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Greig Laidlaw passes the ball during the Scotland captain's run

Scotland pushed France hard in Paris, and Wales to the brink in Edinburgh, only to capitulate at home to Italy and slip off the pace against England.

Despite the improvements only a sizeable upset would secure the victory required for Scotland to avoid the wooden spoon ignominy.

Can Ireland finally end their attacking groove?

Schmidt's much-vaunted tactical kicking game strangled Italy, France and England - but not Wales, who beat the Irish at their own game.

The Grand Slam dream died a messy death in Wales, but Schmidt has insisted there is no need to go "back to the drawing board".

Ireland had more than 60 per cent possession and territory at the Millennium Stadium, but did precious little with it.

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When you've a new partnership such as Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne it will take a bit of time to get that going

Centres Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne are battling manfully to replace Gordon D'Arcy and Brian O'Driscoll, but do not yet have that artful duo's guile.

If ever there was a weekend to channel the spirit of Ireland's greatest-ever midfield pairing, this is it.

Can Ireland fix their faltering line-out?

Ireland's 67 per cent success rate in defeat to Wales was their worst line-out return in years.

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Paul O’Connell wins the lineout for Ireland, but Wales prevailed thanks to their greater accuracy

Hooker Rory Best struggled with his throwing, which had been so accurate otherwise, and captain Paul O'Connell was unable to provide his usual dominance.

Cotter will have watched on knowingly as Warren Gatland's Wales dismantled Ireland's approach.

The Scots forwards will no doubt seek to heap pressure on Ireland's set-piece then - so it is up to Ireland and O'Connell to respond in style.

Press Association

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