Ireland vs. Scotland: 5 Key Battles That Will Shape Six Nations Clash

Danny Coyle@dannyjpcoyleFeatured ColumnistJanuary 31, 2014

Ireland vs. Scotland: 5 Key Battles That Will Shape Six Nations Clash

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    Ireland will be looking for the same sort of Six Nations opening day performance that saw them win in Cardiff last year.

    What they will not want to replicate is the miserable remainder of the tournament that followed. It included a defeat to Scotland at Murrayfield Stadium, which they will be looking to avenge on Sunday.

    Joe Schmidt has rewarded a number of Ulstermen for their form so far this season, while Scotland coach Scott Johnson has to hope his back line can find some bite in Dublin.

    Here are the key head-to-head battles.

Rob Kearney vs. Stuart Hogg

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    Both players like to run the ball back and add a cutting edge to their sides’ attacking play.

    Kearney has the bigger boot and will look to turn Hogg round and field the ball deep in his own territory. Hogg, surely Scotland’s most incisive runner, may find it tough to spark much in wet weather.

Cian Healy vs. Moray Low

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    Healy has timed his return to fitness to start the competition, while Low will come up against the Irish loosehead in Scotland’s No. 3 jersey.

    Low may not have been first choice if Euan Murray were available, so he will need to prove he is up to the task of staying on top of Healy, who has one of the best running games of any front-row player in world rugby.

    Low is a redoubtable scrummager, though, and could give Healy a torrid time.

Chris Henry vs. Kelly Brown

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    This will be an intriguing battle of two No. 7s who will also meet when Ulster host Saracens in the Heineken Cup last eight.

    Henry has been chosen as the replacement for the injured Sean O’Brien, while Brown skippers the Scots.

    With Scotland keen to disrupt the speed of supply to Ireland’s backs, Brown will need to be the spoiler-in-chief on the floor, and Henry will need to stop him.

    The Ulsterman also has the tall order of filling O’Brien’s shoes when it comes to muscular ball-carrying and regular "choke" tackles that Ireland are so adept at.

Paul O’Connell vs. Jim Hamilton

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    O’Connell has been in vintage form for Munster of late, while Hamilton has been ploughing through people in the Top 14 for Montpellier.

    Whoever rules the lineout between these two will give his side the edge, while each man has a huge responsibility to carry, maul and tackle to a standstill.

    Hamilton has a debutant alongside him in the shape of Tim Swinson, while O’Connell has the lighthouse Devin Toner as his partner in the second row, so both senior men will need to lead by example.

Luke Marshall vs. Duncan Taylor

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    Marshall has been selected ahead of the vastly experienced Gordon D’Arcy by Irish boss Joe Schmidt.

    The young Ulsterman comes up against the abrasive Saracens man in another head-to-head battle we might see again in the coming Heineken Cup.

    Marshall’s skills and distribution will be vital to oil the cogs of Ireland’s potent back line, while Taylor has the task of helping ignite a Scottish three-quarter line in great need of some invention.