Rory Best and Jacob Stockdale are the only Ulster players in the starting 15 for Ireland’s penultimate Six Nations match against Scotland on Saturday (KO 14:15).
Iain Henderson has recovered from the injury which kept him out of the match against Wales and makes the bench. Future Ulsterman Jordi Murphy joins Henderson on the bench.
In the forwards, Cian Healy and Rory Best retain their positions as loose head prop and hooker respectively, while the return of Tadhg Furlong boosts Ireland in the scrum. The second row remains unchanged with Devin Toner joining James Ryan. Likewise Joe Schmidt is persisting with Dan Leavy at openside flanker after his solid performance against Wales. CJ Stander starts at 8 while Peter O’Mahony starts at 6.
The only change in the back line is the call up of Garry Ringrose to replace Chris Farrell at outside centre. Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton remain in the half back roles with Bundee Aki joining Ringrose in the centre. Jacob Stockdale will be hoping to have as much success against Scotland as he did against Wales and starts on the left wing. Keith Earls and Rob Kearney occupy right wing and fullback respectively.
Scotland play a fantastic brand of rugby of which a lot arises from their half backs. Finn Russell was criticized after Scotland’s heavy defeat in Cardiff but responded well in the fixture against France and was exceptional in Scotland’s first Calcutta Cup win in ten years. Russell prefers a loose game and is more adept running with the ball in hand which caused Ireland lots of trouble in the match at Murrayfield last year.
In contrast, Greig Laidlaw has been criticized for his slow distribution from the rucks but is a reliable goal kicker who nailed two penalties inside the last ten minutes to win last year’s match between the sides. When Scotland lead in matches they look to the former Edinburgh player to kick to the corners for territory and only occasionally does he fail to deliver.
Ireland have generally been very good at restricting the opposition in matches since their World Cup quarter final exit in 2015, with exception to the match in Murrayfield last February, where Ireland shipped 17 points in the first half. This all stems from the back row. A trio of John Barclay, Hamish Watson and Ryan Wilson are excellent at the breakdown and will attempt to disrupt Ireland’s ball at every opportunity.
We saw Chris Farrell deliver an excellent defensive performance in the outside channel against Wales; Garry Ringrose will need to do the same. With Henshaw out with a long term injury, it would have been beneficial for Ireland to persist with Farrell but a knee injury picked up in training has ended his Six Nations. Ringrose will have his hands full with the precision of Huw Jones’ running, not to mention the electric pace of Blair Kinghorn on the Scottish right wing.
The FRU predicts: Ireland are favourites for this match and I expect them to live up to that tag but not without a Scottish fight. Joe Schmidt will have learnt from last year’s blunder and I predict Ireland to win in what will be a cracking game of rugby. Ireland by 5 points.
|Rob Kearney||15||Stuart Hogg|
|Keith Earls||14||Blair Kinghorn|
|Garry Ringrose||13||Huw Jones|
|Bundee Aki||12||Peter Horne|
|Jacob Stockdale||11||Sean Maitland|
|Johnny Sexton||10||Finn Russell|
|Conor Murray||9||Greig Laidlaw|
|Cian Healy||1||Gordon Reid|
|Rory Best||2||Stuart McInally|
|Tadhg Furlong||3||Simon Berghan|
|James Ryan||4||Grant Gilchrist|
|Devin Toner||5||Jonny Gray|
|Peter O’Mahony||6||John Barclay|
|Dan Leavy||7||Hamish Watson|
|CJ Stander||8||Ryan Wilson|
|Sean Cronin||16||Fraser Brown|
|Jack McGrath||17||Jamie Bhatti|
|Andrew Porter||18||WP Nel|
|Iain Henderson||19||Tim Swinson|
|Jordi Murphy||20||David Denton|
|Kieran Marmion||21||Ali Price|
|Joey Carbery||22||Nick Grigg|
|Jordan Larmour||23||Lee Jones|