Three key duels for Ireland v Scotland Six Nations match

rugby16 March 2024 04:37| © AFP
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Max Williamson © Getty Images

Ireland can assure themselves of back-to-back Six Nations titles by beating Scotland at Lansdowne Road on Saturday.

The Irish could even emulate Joe Schmidt's Ireland side of 2014/15 in winning successive crowns by accruing two losing bonus points.

The Scots have something to play for too as they chase the Triple Crown which would be their first in the Six Nations era.

AFP Sports looks at three duels that could decide the outcome:

Battle of the playmakers

The battle of the playmakers should be an engrossing duel, especially how they react after their respective teams' defeats last Saturday.

Finn Russell, 31, has become sadly used to the Scots winning well one week only to be brought back down to earth the following match.

Sometimes this has been down to him, his desire to perform one too many magical tricks rebounding on him and his team.

However, there are not many fly-halves around who possess the vision and the artistry he does and he is one of the few remaining Scots players to have experienced victory over the Irish, although that was nine matches ago in the 2017 Six Nations.

The Irish defeat at the hands of England may serve Jack Crowley well as the 24-year-old had enjoyed a seamless transition into filling the enormous vacuum left by talisman Johnny Sexton.

Sexton was a master at rebounding from what he considered by his high standards poor performances, both personally and as a team, and driving himself and his teammates on in their following match.

This is the task that faces Crowley, who has much at stake. A good performance and he cements his place as Sexton's successor.A a poor display and it opens up the debate over who is Ireland's long-term fly-half.

Hard centre

Andy Farrell will be delighted to have Garry Ringrose back in the squad after missing the first four matches due to a shoulder issue.

Bundee Aki was one of Ireland's better players against England but Robbie Henshaw dropped off a bit. In Ringrose, who is on the replacements bench, Farrell has a player who offers some variety to the more direct running of Aki and Henshaw. This was what made both Aki and Ringrose such a potent force at the World Cup last year.

Both partnerships are experienced at test level which is not what can be said of their Scottish opposite numbers Huw Jones and Stafford McDowall.

For 26-year-old McDowall it is just his second cap but he and Jones know each other well as they both play for Glasgow.

McDowall got the nod from head coach Gregor Townsend, ahead of the less physically imposing Cameorn Redpath who played in the Italy defeat, as he expects a no holds barred contest between the quartet.

"We feel he deserves the opportunity," said Townsend of McDowall.

"It will be a very physical match and he's probably the biggest guy in our backline, outside of Duhan (van der Merwe). He's a hard worker too.

"His cohesion with Huw means they should hit it off like they have been doing for their club."

Back rows bid to outflank rivals

Two areas which cost Ireland dearly in the 23-22 defeat by England were poor discipline and, more surprisingly, the back row failed to function to its usual high standards.

Josh van der Flier was the exception but fellow flanker Peter O'Mahony's yellow card – his second of this year's tournament – summed up their frustrations.

"We had it (victory) in our grasp and probably just a few errors, a bit of ill-discipline and a couple of moments where we could have done better," admitted van der Flier ruefully.

The Scottish backrow led by co-captain Rory Darge are also licking their wounds having come off second best against their Italian counterparts last weekend.

The Irish trio do have the psychological upper hand on their Scottish rivals as they dominated them in the 36-14 Rugby World Cup pool thrashing last October.

Darge and Jack Dempsey of Saturday's side played that evening with then captain Jamie Ritchie.

Should the Irish rediscover anything like that form then it promises to be a very tough 80 minutes for Darge and his teammates.