Column: Cooke's Six Nations Corner

Mar 7, 2023 09:00 By Michael Cooke
Column: Cooke's Six Nations Corner
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Flying Scotsmen will test Ireland but victory still possible

Column: Flying Scotsmen will test Ireland but victory still possible

Before the six nations commenced, many believed France would be Ireland’s toughest opponents during the tournament. Since the beginning, evidence has emerged that Scotland could provide an equally strong challenge.

Last year’s corresponding fixture saw those in green win 26-5; but the Scots are a rejuvenated outfit. Only seven players who started that day began the French game in round three.


Attacking improvements

Most notably, the main changes in personnel are evident on the attacking front. Huw Jones, the Six Nations leading try scorer didn’t feature 12 months ago. Duhan Van Der Merwe is another one of the game’s most prolific players, also absent that day.

Crucially though, Scottish rugby orchestra’s chief conductor, Finn Russell only played 14 minutes of last year’s encounter. Russell is now a regular starter at out-half and one of the finest performers in this year’s Six Nations.


Essentially Scotland are now a more potent and formidable outfit. Gregor Townsend’s men have amassed 12 tries in three matches, the most by any side apart from Ireland. Despite suffering defeat at the hands of France last time out, Scotland showed they’ll be tough opponents this coming Sunday.

The centre situation

Ireland know themselves that Scotland will exploit any defensive deficiencies in their performance. 24 tackles were missed against Italy, a repeat would result in severe punishment by the Scots.


The Italian game epitomised the importance of Garry Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw from a defensive perspective. Ringrose is the clearly the first-choice outside centre while his replacement Bundee Aki is more suited to playing at inside centre.

The same can be said for Stuart McCloskey, meaning a disparity of options across both positions left Ireland vulnerable. Henshaw appears to be the only versatile option at centre, his absence was sorely felt.

Encouragingly however, Henshaw has returned to full training at time of writing while Ringrose is expected to start despite sitting out a recent training session. His potential return would massively bolster Ireland’s rear-guard.


Finn Russell

Ireland must also be alert to Finn Russell’s cross-field kicks, a key weapon in Scotland’s arsenal. So far, he has attempted seven cross-field kicks in this championship; five were successfully retained and two directly resulted in tries.

The Scottish number 10 is the fulcrum of their fluid attack; his four try assists are testimony thereto. Limiting his influence on the game is easier said than done but Ireland can help themselves by dominating matters up front.


Forward dominance

Andy Farrell’s men have functioned well here. 100% scrum success was recorded against both France and Wales. Tight-head Finlay Bealham has proven somewhat effective at the forefront of Ireland’s scrum. His absence is a blow, but Tadhg Furlong and Tom O’Toole are capable replacements.

The line-out is another key area. Overall, Ireland have performed well here but face a different test on Sunday. Brothers Richie and Jonny Gray could pack down in the Scottish second row, the latter likely to replace the suspended Grant Gilchrist.

The pair have won 25 lineouts collectively so far. Safe to say, Ireland will be more than tested here.

Ostensibly, excellence at the breakdown is imperative too. Ireland were the only team with an average ruck speed under three seconds in the last round. A reconstruction thereof would be a recipe for success.

Importance of winning

Getting the win on Sunday is vitally important for numerous reasons. Firstly, a bonus-point win coupled with other results going their way could guarantee Ireland a Six Nations title.  The prospect of silverware is highly motivating but those in green may well be cognisant of the bigger picture.

Ireland will play Scotland again in the pool stages of the forthcoming world cup. Therefore, a win on Sunday carries a major psychological advantage for either side.

Only two teams will progress to the knockout stages and with reigning champions South Africa part of the same group; these two sides will be targeting the remaining spot.

Yes the world cup is for another day but if we learnt anything from Ireland’s implosion four years ago, it’s that the winning habit is vitally important.

Lessons have been learned however and Ireland are consistently winning matches without playing at full capacity. And that’s partially why Ireland should sustain the winning momentum on Sunday.

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