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Michael Sadlier: Scotland hoping to kick on but they need the Irish psyche to be badly damaged

Listen up: Scotland coach Gregor Townsend passes on some instructions to Finn Russell during the captain’s run
Listen up: Scotland coach Gregor Townsend passes on some instructions to Finn Russell during the captain’s run

By Michael Sadlier

As ever with Scotland, there were times when they looked sublime and then moments when, frankly, they looked very ordinary and rather wobbly.

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And this was against Italy, who came to Murrayfield last weekend hardly in the rudest shape and dutifully presented Gregor Townsend's squad with an opening day win while allowing Finn Russell, Stuart Hogg and hat-trick try scorer Blair Kinghorn - the latter now finding himself benched for today - the freedom of the park.

Yet the unavoidable reality that the Scots were unable to finish the game with the same aplomb that they had brought to it earlier on - the running angles of former Ulster player Tommy Seymour were also in evidence as the home side put themselves in an unassailable position - has rightly prompted some cause for concern.

Italy ran in three tries in the closing stages, when Scotland were down to 14 men, to cut the home side's 33-3 lead to 33-20 which is how it finished.

Ruthless sides with quality operators and leaders at their core would never permit such profligacy.

Much has been made of Scotland's lack of depth and injury list - prop WP Nel being added this week to those unavailable to Townsend with uncapped D'Arcy Rae brought onto the bench now that tighthead Simon Berghan starts - prompting a sizeable amount of angst as a wounded Ireland hove into view.

And though some capital has been made about the fact that the visitors are somewhat vulnerable, there has been little enough voiced regarding assumptions that Joe Schmidt's side might be as flaky as was the case two years ago at Murrayfield.

Still, back-rower Josh Strauss - back in the side following Sam Skinner's injury - has called for Scotland to replicate England's physicality while mentioning that the key to victory over Ireland in 2017 was all about unsettling them early on at the breakdown and in the collisions.

How they could do with John Barclay, who is out with a long-term injury, now and a lot will rest on Strauss, Ryan Wilson and the returned Jonny Gray to bring this muscular presence.

But to take Ireland down, more will be needed. Russell has to be at his playmaking best and though he was on fire against Italy, the Racing 92 out-half did pretty much have something close to an armchair ride.

But if skipper Greig Laidlaw can also hit the mark again, and afford Russell time and space while also taking the heat off him if necessary, then the Scots could be in business.

Bringing their pretty decent looking back-three into the game at every opportunity with a fit-again Sean Maitland alongside Seymour and the at times unplayable Hogg looks pivotal.

Their bench lacks a fearsome-looking edge, but Kinghorn might have plenty of motivation to show Townsend that he shouldn't have been dropped after scoring a hat-trick.

The fear is that Scotland just won't have the artillery to win and yet this also represents a chance to have a tilt at a side whose confidence must be shaken.

Start well and the Scots have a chance, otherwise they can only hope that Ireland are fatally damaged from England and that probably seems too tall an order.

Belfast Telegraph


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