It’s been a couple of weeks since the last round so here’s a reminder of where we are. Ireland picked up their first win in Round 3, against Italy, and the France v Scotland game was postponed with the refix still to be confirmed.
France and Scotland have been the most exciting sides in the championship so far and, should France beat Wales next weekend, Scotland still have a chance of winning the championship. In my opinion, the Scots go into Sunday afternoon’s game as firm favourites though the bookies are only giving them +2!
That opinion hasn’t been changed by the team announcements which sees Ireland make 3 changes, and Scotland 4, from their last outings.
Ireland continue their intense focus on the here and now bringing in some of the old guard in favour of player development. I had expected Jacob Stockdale to return to partner with Jordan Larmour and Hugo Keenan, in the back 3, and Garry Ringrose in the centre. Instead Stockdale remains with Ulster and Larmour is sent to the bench with Keith Earls taking his place.
Up front Cian Healy returns to loosehead and Rob Herring comes back at hooker as Dave Kilcoyne and Ronan Kelleher are benched. Ireland had shed a couple of hundred caps in the starting XV between the Welsh and Italian games but the changes see it shoot back up to 638 in the starting XV and 863 overall, including the reserves. This is 228 more caps than the Scotland side who start with 496 caps on the bench and 139 on the bench.
Scotland’s Gregor Townsend has made four changes, bringing in a fit-again Sean Maitland and Jamie Ritchie, prop WP Nel and centre Sam Johnson. However, irrespective of the personnel it’s been the styles of play that have been the main difference and, in that regard, Ireland have been very one dimensional.
There is nothing wrong with Ireland’s stats, they are probably leading the way in possession, rucks won and meters gained. The problem is, teams like Scotland can do more damage with a lot less possession. They are prepared to take more risks, for greater rewards, and this makes their games more entertaining. Ireland take minimal risks and their play has been shockingly boring.
The FRU Predicts: Ireland’s best chance of a win is Scotland going into a big enough early lead which forces Ireland to play. Unfortunately, I don’t see it going that way. Ireland will smother the game for the first 60 with Scotland pulling away in the final quarter.
|Stuart Hogg (C)||15||Hugo Keenan|
|Sean Maitland||14||Keith Earls|
|Chris Harris||13||Garry Ringrose|
|Sam Johnson||12||Robbie Henshaw|
|Duhan van der Merwe||11||James Lowe|
|Finn Russell||10||Jonathan Sexton (C)|
|Ali Price||9||Jamison Gibson-Park|
|Rory Sutherland||1||Cian Healy|
|George Turner||2||Rob Herring|
|WP Nel||3||Tadhg Furlong|
|Scott Cummings||4||Iain Henderson|
|Jonny Gray||5||James Ryan|
|Jamie Ritchie||6||Tadhg Beirne|
|Hamish Watson||7||Will Connors|
|Matt Fagerson||8||CJ Stander|
|David Cherry||16||Ronan Kelleher|
|Jamie Bhatti||17||Dave Kilcoyne|
|Simon Berghan||18||Andrew Porter|
|Grant Gilchrist||19||Ryan Baird|
|Nick Haining||20||Jack Conan|
|Scott Steele||21||Conor Murray|
|Huw Jones||22||Billy Burns|
|Darcy Graham||23||Jordan Larmour|