Sunday 18 March 2018

Scots issue plea to referee Wayne Barnes in bid to keep Ireland game moving

Referee Wayne Barnes. Photo: Getty Images
Referee Wayne Barnes. Photo: Getty Images

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

Scotland have called on referee Wayne Barnes and his team of officials to police Ireland's control of the clock to allow them play a high-tempo game in Saturday's all-important clash in Dublin.

After Wales coach Warren Gatland highlighted the low ball-in-play statistics in his side's loss at the Aviva Stadium 10 days ago, Scotland assistant Mike Blair said that they would prefer an all-action encounter to a stop-start affair.

Gatland believes that the relatively low ball-in-play time of 32 minutes and 57 seconds was a major factor in his side's 37-27 loss and the Scottish coaching staff are fully aware of the issue.

"It was a very stop-start game," Gatland said. "We looked at the stats over the years when we have played Ireland and anything over 44 minutes, we have won the games, and anything 37 minutes or below, they have won the games.

"They have managed that and controlled the game well in terms of momentum."

Blair was fully aware of Gatland's comments and said the officials would have to play a role in helping the game flow.

"I saw that article," the former Lions scrum-half said.

"We like to keep the ball in play a lot. International teams look for areas of weakness but also adapt to what is going on. Ireland will know we like a high-tempo game and I'm sure they will have ways to prevent that.

"We are trying to play a good brand of rugby and I hope the officials appreciate what we're trying to do."

Townsend has sent for reinforcements after his team beat England impressively in round three, with fit-again Richie Gray, Fraser Brown and Zander Fagerson all part of his 40-man squad.

The former Glasgow coach has called up John Hardie for the first time since he served a three-month ban for "gross misconduct", handed down by the SRU amid allegations of cocaine use.

"He's a fantastic player," Blair said. "He has a good pedigree and a good history playing with Scotland. When you have player like that available, it would be silly not to have him on board.

"He's had his time off. He's been helped through that and now he can focus on his rugby."

Blair played in the 2010 meeting between the sides at Croke Park, the last Scottish away win over anyone other than Italy.

Victory over England was a big boost to Gregor Townsend's side but they are not getting carried away as they approach the game.

"It's a confident group of players. But they're also aware that things don't just happen," he said. "You know, that performance against Wales, that was only three games ago.

"So we're aware that we're not that finished article. There is lots of work that goes into a good performance. And we need a lot of things to go right if we're going to perform in Ireland.

"This will be at least as tough as facing England at home. Ireland play a very dominant brand of rugby."

Irish Independent

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