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Comment: Ireland must turn up heat to melt brave Scotland

Great shape: Ireland’s scrum must work to near perfection to get on top against Scotland
Great shape: Ireland’s scrum must work to near perfection to get on top against Scotland

By Neil Francis

I couldn't sleep the other night - something just gnawing at me. Just something vaguely familiar about the way Ireland are playing their rugby.

Get the pack going forward, one-out runners, get them around the corner and garner some momentum and a little room and then make progress from there.

Then you pick two huge men in the centre. The enormous 6ft 4ins, 18 stone Chris Farrell will do just fine. Get him to hit it up, quick ruck ball - get it round the corner again or reverse the direction and suddenly you are in charge.

For Ireland you need dynamic ball carriers at 8, 12 and 13 for this tactic to work. CJ Stander is up there with Taulupe Faletau and Farrell is as big, if not bigger, than Jamie Roberts - oh my God, Ireland are playing 'Warren Ball'!

They do say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Wazza must have been watching last Saturday week thinking, 'These guys are taking the p*** out of me. I get slagged off for playing a fairly rudimentary form of the game. I change my style and these b******s are now doing what I was doing in 2008 and 2012 when I won my Grand Slams with Wales'.

The Welsh, lest we forget, scored plenty of tries in their two Grand Slam-winning seasons with Wazza. Ireland are scoring tries for fun as well, and if they play well this Saturday they have a good chance of four or more playing Joe Ball. The problem is that the Scots could do likewise.

I don't care if they play a strictly limited style of rugby on Saturday, as long as they win - preferably winning without any more coronary inducing acts of charity.

Let's cut to the chase. I favour Ireland strongly. I think they have too much firepower for the Scottish eight and if they concentrate on pummelling them off every breakdown, Scotland will not be able to cope for the full 80. Ireland demonstrated some pretty relentless phase play against Wales and even in patches against the French.

For Scotland it will have to be no passengers and all crew. They performed creditably up front against England. Way too smart and sharp at the breakdown and aggressive and dynamic at the ruck where England thought they could protect or mind their ruck ball with minimum entry of players in to stand over it - one, maybe two. Scotland recognised the moment, got numbers in and stole or slowed down a lot of ball.

It begs the question: how good are England?

We will know a lot more after they play France in Paris. That eight that walked out in Murrayfield are a very decent unit, but British Rail's favourite customer flogged them to death in the two weeks before the Scottish game and apparently they were horse-whipped to within an inch of their lives for the last 10 days.

I am surprised they were able to walk on to the pitch. England were listless and yards off the pace.

Eddie Jones saw how the French pack were beaten at the breakdown by Scotland and still decided to choose Nathan Hughes and Courtney Lawes in his back row.

They were at sea at the breakdown and the admirable and normally combative Chris Robshaw was suffering from the same army camp fitness regime malaise that the rest of the English front five were dealing with. If he had rested his horses and was able to call upon Sam Simmonds and Sam Underhill, I reckon they could have squeaked it.

Last year, before the Scottish game in Murrayfield, I suggested that Ireland have a real pop at scrum time. This was done on the basis that if you put on the power at scrum time and assert yourself in this phase away from home it gives you solid purchase to get in and control the match.

I also suggested that Ireland go for it in that department because Scotland were very, very light on quality scrummaging props. Nor was their pack geared up to go macho with anyone at the set scrum. Their mantra was ball in, up and gone.

The ploy was the right thing to do - but who was to know that Scotland would only get one bloody scrum in the whole game.

Ireland only got five but they minced the Scots here and took them for a walk down the field. Ireland got three scrum penalties. That was never going to win them the game. Ireland were too sluggish in the first half and paid the penalty.

The thing is that this game will be decided at the breakdown, but if the Scots don't have to scrum and if Ireland don't wear them down in this phase the Scots will run all day.

Even using the tactic of getting Murray to break without the ball to draw the Scottish back row off the base of the scrum will pay dividends.

Another factor that skewed the result last year in Murrayfield was the fact that Sexton did not play.

Paddy Jackson had a decent afternoon, but there is a chasm in quality in terms of game management and Sexton's mere presence on the field makes all those around him perform at a different level.

Ireland are a mature side who won't get suckered into a fast and loose game. The trick to subduing Scotland is by suppressing the tempo.

We know that there will be a lot of kick chase and patience is required with that. Field position is key to stopping Scotland throwing the ball around. It is true that Finn Russell was near his own 22 when he threw that long cut-out pass to Huw Jones.

It was a low percentage play that caught England cold, yet it could have been picked off by England - but the scots got away with it... in Murrayfield.

There will be moments when Scotland get to play, uncomfortable moments when Ireland get exposed in midfield or on the tramlines. It is hard to hem Scotland into their own 22 for the entire game but that is what I expect Ireland to do and to dominate in the red zone.

I think Furlong and Henderson, if they are both fully fit and last the whole game, will have a huge influence.

To introduce two Lions who have had a month's rest is huge. I also think that Stander and O'Mahony have been relatively quiet and coming down the home stretch it is time for the pair of them to produce performances of authority.

An authentic 80-minute performance is required to beat a tricky Scottish side. If the Scots are made aware from the start that this is a determined and ruthless Irish side that have no intention of losing - well then that is what will happen.

I don't care if Ireland play Warren Ball again - just win the game!

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