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Scotland v Ireland: Revitalised Scots determined to give Cotter the perfect leaving gift

By Michael Sadlier

They haven't even tried to hide it which might be as much to do with the sense of relief that few have opted to automatically lump Scotland along with Italy as the Championship's no-hopers.

So, we have pretty much undisguised belief coursing through Vern Cotter's squad that they might actually be on the cusp of a breakthrough moment when hosting Ireland first up.

And, yes, they come into this Six Nations with some form - augmented by Glasgow Warriors' performances in Europe - as well as continuity of selection.

All very un-Scottish really but, nevertheless, Cotter has been slowly inching the side forward which makes it all the more puzzling that the Kiwi has found himself out of his job at season's end - he will be hooking up with Montpellier - for the hoped-for qualities which Gregor Townsend is expected to bring to the post.

Cotter has done some effective work in gradually turning things around from when he took over in summer 2014.

And the players badly want to repay him while the Kiwi has also said he would very much like to get one over on his former assistant coach at Clermont - the club Cotter led to their first Top 14 title in 2010 - and still close friend, a certain Joe Schmidt.

But that's not all. We've even had skipper Greig Laidlaw upping the ante with some talk of the reception Conor Murray will receive at Murrayfield.

The Scots badly want to avenge the last time the sides met in Edinburgh for the Six Nations when Ireland destroyed them on the way to dramatically securing back-to-back titles on that probably never to be surpassed Super Saturday in 2015.

And with Jonathan Sexton out injured, there is an unmistakeable sense that Ulsterman Paddy Jackson can be got at if Murray is dealt with.

Scotland will reckon on having a much more balanced half-back pairing in Laidlaw and Finn Russell while centre Huw Jones' dual with young Garry Ringrose looks tasty.

They also have a much more attack-minded back three of Tommy Seymour, Sean Maitland and the ever-dangerous Hogg.

Jonny and Richie Gray look a more dynamic second row pairing than Ireland's, though, generally, the Scots' pack looks weaker.

Scotland know they must throw Ireland off balance and use Laidlaw and Russell to control the game.

But a lot will have to go right if all this bullishness is to find any worthwhile expression.


SCOTLAND - Stuart Hogg; Sean Maitland, Huw Jones, Alex Dunbar, Tommy Seymour; Finn Russell, Greig Laidlaw (capt); Allan Dell, Fraser Brown, Zander Fagerson; Richie Gray, Jonny Gray; Ryan Wilson, Hamish Watson, Josh Strauss. Replacements: Ross Ford, Gordon Reid, Simon Berghan, Tim Swinson, John Barclay, Ali Price, Duncan Weir, Mark Bennett.

IRELAND - Rob Kearney; Keith Earls, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, Simon Zebo; Paddy Jackson, Conor Murray; Jack McGrath, Rory Best, Tadhg Furlong; Iain Henderson, Devin Toner; CJ Stander, Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip. Replacements: Niall Scannell, Cian Healy, John Ryan, Ultan Dillane, Josh van der Flier, Kieran Marmion, Ian Keatley, Tommy Bowe.

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