Date: Saturday, 10 March
Kick-off: 1700 GMT
by Dugald Skene
By their own admission, Ireland are gutted they couldn't hold on to the 11 point advantage they gained by half time in their clash in Paris. Not for decades had they a better opportunity at the midway point to beat the French in their own backyard.
What we can count on this weekend is the Irish backlash as they look to atone for their defensive sins which led to silly penalties and a Wesley Fofana try to let France claw themselves back to get a draw. As inept as the French were going forward during the first half on Sunday, the Irish blitz defence was explosive. The D'Arcy/Earls combination worked well for the majority of the game without being spectacular and Tommy Bowe capitalised on sluggish French back play to pick them off and get 2 touchdowns.
With talismanic second row and captain Paul O'Connell ruled out for the remainder of the tournament along with scrum half Conor Murray and Sean O'Brien ruled out at the last moment, Ireland will look to Rory Best who has recovered from some knocks sustained against France to lead out their team. Regarding his fitness, he said "It was more precautionary having the scan and it's comforting to know there's nothing sinister there. I trained fully today". It will be Best's 58th cap and will see him match Keith Woods as the most capped Irish hooker.
I don't see the withdrawal of Conor Murray being particularly problematic for the Irish. If anything, I think Jonathan Sexton will benefit from having his club partner Eoin Reddan playing with him, a partnership that has proved so valuable for European champions Leinster the last few years. The late withdrawal of Sean O'Brien due to a skin infection to his foot is a huge blow for the Irish. One third of a revered back row partnership, his loss is a big plus for Scotland and the breakdown.
Scotland’s build up to Saturday’s game in Dublin has been much the same as the previous two games against Wales and France with an overriding message coming from the camp that they are on the right path and all that needs to change is the eradication of small errors around the field.
After the multiple injuries from a hugely physical battle with France, it is only Rory Lamont (broken leg) who doesn't make it back into the starting line up. Sean, his brother, moves out to the wing and the open centre berth is retaken by the returning Nick de Luca, a place well earned after a fantastic substitute performance 2 weeks ago.
Despite the availability of Euan Murray, Andy Robinson has kept faith with the same forward 8 that competed so well against France, a tangible signal to players and fans alike that he is happy with the way the team are playing.
Ruaridh Jackson and Max Evans return to the fold and take their places on the bench with Duncan Weir the man giving way.
To date, Robinson's tactics have been spot on. As has been said so often the last few weeks, results have come down to execution, or lack of it in most cases. As happened against France, the Scots will look to run through multiple phases in order to create defensive mismatches. I think one target will be Andrew Trimble on the wing. Lee Jones should look to expose the defensive frailties of the Ulsterman with his pace. Trimble often comes infield to look for ball and if Stuart Hogg and/or Sean Lamont come across to create an overlap on that side, Scotland could get some success.
Perhaps the most anticipated battle will be at the breakdown where the Irish and Scottish back rows have been excellent to date. Robinson has pinpointed the area as one that Scotland must win in order to gain overall supremacy in the game. He also pointed out the Irish tactic of 'choke' tackling, keeping the man off the ground when he is tackled to form a maul. There's no doubt that Scotland will have been working on this in the past couple of weeks.
Scotland will have to be at their very best against an Irish team that has underperformed to date. The same could be said about the Scots and both teams will know it and would be foolish to underestimate their respective results. Time will tell whether the added one week break the Scots have had will benefit them on the day. The Irish on the other hand will be pleased they get the chance to put the French disappointment behind them as quickly as possible, but even 6 days is a quick turnaround in test rugby.
It will prove to be a very tight contest. My bias and eternally rebounding optimism tells me that Scotland will win, but only by 5 points at most. This has already been a very close tournament and Saturday's game looks like it will only continue the trend.
15. R Kearney, 14. T Bowe, 13. K Earls, 12. G D'Arcy, 11. A Trimble, 10. J Sexton, 9. E Reddan, 1. C Healy, 2. R Best (c), 3. M Ross, 4. D O'Callaghan, 5. D Ryan, 6. S Ferris, 7. P O'Mahony, 8. J Heaslip
Bench: 16. S Cronin, 17. T Court, 18. M McCarthy, 19. S Jennings, 20. T O'Leary, 21. R O'Gara, 22. F McFadden
15. S Hogg, 14. L Jones, 13. N de Luca, 12. G Morrison, 11. S Lamont, 10. G Laidlaw, 9. M Blair, 1. A Jacobsen, 2. R Ford (c), 3. G Cross, 4. R Gray, 5. J Hamilton, 6. J Barclay, 7. R Rennie, 8. D Denton
Bench: 16. S Lawson, 17. E Murray, 18. A Kellock, 19. R Vernon, 20. C Cusiter, 21. R Jackson, 22. M Evans