Saturday 18 August 2018

Comment: Last year's loss shows Ireland way to beat Scots

Grand Slam hunters will look to dominate set-piece and starve visitors of possession

James Ryan and Dan Leavy arrive for training at Carton House yesterday. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
James Ryan and Dan Leavy arrive for training at Carton House yesterday. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

They were bitten last season, but there's no benefit in Ireland being shy as they go about their business against Scotland tomorrow.

This one is about control and dominance, a strong re-affirmation of this team's place in the world order and another step to a historic Grand Slam.

Scotland showed last season that they are capable of beating this Ireland team and while they remain a mixed bag away from Murrayfield, they are a better team now than they were 13 months ago.

While the memory is that Ireland were off their game that day, it isn't wholly true and perhaps does the Scots a disservice.

The visiting scrum obliterated their opposite numbers, but the lineout malfunctioned at critical junctures.

Scotland did a job at breakdown time and availed of some uncharacteristically light-touch defending to do damage out wide in scoring their first and second tries, before exploiting a switch-off at lineout time to build a score.

Ireland worked their way back in, only for the bench to lack oomph and the Scots to win it all over again. Joe Schmidt will have devoured the footage and will have drilled the lessons into his players.

Therefore, complacency should not be an issue for an Irish team who know what's at stake against a Scottish side determined to end their long wait for an away Six Nations win.

DEFENSIVE SPACING

A review of Ireland's last two performances will have been eaten up by the Scots who have the capacity to do real damage in the outside channels, just as they did last season.

So, the issues Ireland have in their wide defence will be seen as a major opportunity for the visiting team who have a strong range of passing and like to get the ball to the flanks as quickly as possible.

With Stuart Hogg in fine form, it is a concern for an Irish team whose main defensive vulnerability is out wide.

If they over-compensate, Finn Russell will look to put Huw Jones through the narrower spaces in midfield while if they fail to fix it then there will be a lot of onus on Garry Ringrose, who is making his first international appearance of the season.

He is the key decision-maker, playing alongside Bundee Aki and Jacob Stockdale for the first time at this level, and he must get up to speed quickly.

Ireland's decision-making must be on point. Jack Conan and Fergus McFadden have paid the price for their contributions in the near meltdown against Wales by dropping out of the squad.

In particular, Conan's decision to rush up on the first receiver rather than drift in the build-up to Steff Evans' try appears to have cost him his place.

Everyone will have a role to play, with the line-speed key in putting the squeeze on Russell and the set-piece and breakdown work central to slowing the service down.

SET-PIECE DOMINANCE

Ireland obliterated Scotland's scrum last season, earning penalties frequently to put themselves in good positions.

That they didn't take advantage was largely down to lineout problems that have since been ironed out, with the return to fitness and form of Peter O'Mahony a key factor in that.

Although the personnel has changed, there is still a sense that the Irish tight five is superior to their opposite numbers and you only have to go back to Leinster's big win away to Glasgow Warriors in the Champions Cup as an example of how these players can dominate a Scottish pack, although Schmidt pointed out the big difference between the PRO14 side and the Test team.

If Ireland can squeeze Scotland and dominate field position by earning set-piece penalties, they'll go some way to limiting their threat.

CONTROL TEMPO

Scotland have already called on referee Wayne Barnes to help them in keeping the pace of the game up and the ball in play, but Ireland are doing nothing wrong in their game-management.

Their half-back pairing are canny decision makers who know when and how to take the sting out of the game and their capacity to work with the clock was key against Wales.

Warren Gatland reckoned his side would have won had the ball been in play for more than 44 minutes. Ireland kept it well below that, managing their efforts cleverly by keeping the ball for long periods, getting ahead and then controlling the clock.

Scotland don't want that to happen, although Ireland have a stronger bench this time and will be confident of closing strongly.

COMMIT NUMBERS

For some reason, England opted to keep bodies out of the breakdown at Murrayfield and they paid a price as the Scots caused them problems.

They have an array of ground threats; from captain John Barclay to the diminutive Hamish Watson and hooker Stuart McInally, who has caught Schmidt's eye.

They are quick to the ruck and strong over the ball, meaning the ball carrier must fight for yards and be careful with his presentation.

The first arriver must also get there quickly and be on the money technically to ensure the ball is recycled quickly.

Ireland's good days usually come as a result of pin-point ruck work and their performance in this area has been good in this tournament so far.

On Scotland's ball, they will also back themselves to get involved in the ruck right - trying to slow the visiting side down to allow the defensive line to reorganise itself.

Dan Leavy and O'Mahony will have a big role to play in this regard.

USE RINGROSE'S STRENGTHS

Garry Ringrose is not Chris Farrell and it would be remiss of Ireland to use the Leinster man in the same way they asked the Munster centre two weeks ago.

The 23-year-old brings a whole different skill-set to the party - all light feet and movement - and he can break a defence at a moment's notice.

The battering ram worked against Wales but the fleet-footed Dubliner could be the point of difference.

Irish Independent

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