2013 Six Nations: 5 Keys to Irish Victory Against Scotland
W.B. Yeats once said of Ireland, "all changed, chaged utterly". He was speaking of a dark period in Irish history but his words would ring true for the current Irish rugby team and their embattled coach Declan Kidney.
Two weeks ago fans and media alike were rife with talk of Grand Slams and the birth of a new era. Defeat to England has dampened the mood considerable with noted pundits now calling for Kidney's head.
A string of injuries and a suspension mean Ireland are now missing a top player from each unit of the team. Ireland had accounted for the loss of key players Tommy Bowe, Stephen Ferris and Paul O'Connell but the new injuries have hit them hard.
And so an inexperienced Ireland side travel to meet a Scottish side buoyed by a big win against Italy. Win and they are still in the championship; lose and it may have serious ramifications.
Cautious Start to the Game
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Normally when teams pick a young fly-half they do so with caution. They surround him with experienced heads, or play him at 12 outside a more experienced fly-half. Ireland don't have that luxury, thus on Sunday Ireland's 10 and 12 won't have an international cap to their name.
Paddy Jackson, the new fly-half, is an exciting talent but he has struggled at times at the top level. He was invisible in last season's Heineken Cup Final and isn't yet trusted with the place-kicking duties at Ulster, despite his confidence.
If he's inexperienced then the man outside him must surely be called callow. With just 14 professional starts to his name, Luke Marshall will be tasked with not only protecting his fly-half, but also unleashing the backs outside him.
Both will be nervous, and both will be targeted by big Scottish runners. Ireland will need to protect their debutants by dominated field position and taking the sting out of the early Scottish onslaught.
Get After the Scottish Scrum
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Talk of the supposed weakness of Ireland's scrum proved to be unfounded when they more than held their own against a powerful English outfit in the last round.
Too much was made of Ireland's capitulation at Twickenham last year, and Tom Court bore the brunt of the scathing criticism. To the uninitiated, a prop may just be a prop but there are huge differences between playing on the tight and loose. He is a loose-head by trade and was forced onto the tight-head against a powerful Alex Corbisiero.
Many expected Kidney to go for the like-for-like replacement and pick Munster's David Kilcoyne, but in another bold move he went for the destructive Court.
This season he has been in great form, constantly getting the better of highly rated tight-heads. With Scotland's tight-head Euan Murray sitting out for religious reasons, he has a great chance to get after his less talented replacement Geoff Cross.
Scotland's scrum struggled against the Italians and will be even weaker as they are shorn of their experienced anchor at tight-head.
If Ireland can get after the Scottish scrum they will dominate the territorial battle and get Jackson a chance to kick at goal and build his confidence.
A More Disciplined Kicking Game
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England beat Ireland last weekend because they played the smarter rugby, and a huge part of that was the superiority of their kicking game.
When they kicked out of hand they found space and their chase was superb. Ireland on the other hand failed to put the ball in behind the England back-three, giving up huge amounts of territory every time the got into a kicking duel.
On Sunday they will face a very dangerous trio of Scots, all of whom have had a sparkling start to the Six Nations. Stuart Hogg has being eating up yards with ball in hand and has been aided by the smarts of Sean Maitland and the power of Tim Visser.
If Ireland kick poorly they will run it back, and if they do this they can cause serious damage. The flip side is they aren't comfortable if the ball is put in behind them, particularly Visser.
When they kick, Ireland need to put the ball in behind the Scottish back-three. Then Ireland need to be aggressive in their kick chase and not give them the opportunity to run the ball back.
Rob Kearney is particular will need to step up his play. He is struggling for form at present but if he can improve the basics of his game, the rest will quickly follow.
Patience in Attack
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The statistics from Scotland's defeat of Italy in the last round show that the 34-10 scoreline was hugely flattering to the Scots.
Italy had 62% of both possession and territory and made almost 100 less tackles, yet still found themselves on the receiving end of a hiding.
When Italy got in behind the Scots, which they did repeatedly, they tried to force passes or ran away from their support instead of building through the phases and waiting for the holes to appear.
Matt Scott at inside centre looks to rush up in defence, leaving holes in the Scottish line which the likes of Brian O'Driscoll has the guile to expose. Outside him at 13, Sean Lamont tends to go for the highlight-reel hit rather than wrapping his man up.
This should allow Ireland get in behind the Scottish defence. When this happens they need to be patient, suck in Scottish defenders and created mismatches out wide.
Scotland have missed over 12 percent of their tackles in this years Six Nations and their two games so far have showed that patience in attack will be rewarded and impatience punished.
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This is because what Scotland do very well is take advantage of mistakes, scoring four of their five tries in the tournament off turnover ball or minimal phases.
In attack they have a couple of serious ball-carriers capable of doing damage, but struggle when forced to go through the phases.
Ireland will need to make their first-up tackles, limiting the space out wide and forcing the Scots to break them down.
Scotland's back-three can be devastating with ball-in-hand but for this to happen they need to get the ball in space.
Brian O'Driscoll will also be tasked with rushing up and shutting down the outside channels, much the way he did against Jonathan Davies. If Lamont is forced to push the pass he is more likely to drop his shoulder and search out contact.
Scotland have struggled to build attacks so if Ireland can force them to go through the phases the mistakes will come.
But if they are too aggressive in defence, lettng the Scots in behind them, they are liable to be punished by the potent back-three.