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Townsend's troops facing a tough ask to bring about upset

The Other Side


Big responsibility: Scotland’s Hamish Watson is a danger

Big responsibility: Scotland’s Hamish Watson is a danger

�INPHO/Brian Reilly-Troy

Big responsibility: Scotland’s Hamish Watson is a danger

Scotland could make a strong case for patenting how not to arrive at the Six Nations.

A squad still reeling from the nightmare of Japan then stumbled, or maybe more appropriately lurched, firmly into that turmoil-riven area thanks to the Finn Russell affair.

It was the last thing Gregor Townsend, who takes charge of his third Six Nations since being elevated to his current role, needed, with his time as Scotland coach not exactly top-heavy with achievement or even suggestions of substantive progress.

The easily-concluded assumption is that the Scots, bereft a player capble of turning games with the sort of touches he has been showing at Racing 92, are now coming to Dublin as a bedraggled lot, fit only for a bit of a shoeing, as was the case when the sides last met in Yokohama.

Throw in the alarming stat that the Scots have failed to win on Irish soil for a decade - so long ago that it was played at Croke Park while the Aviva Stadium was being constructed - and you get the picture.

So, no Russell and no Darcy Graham either after the winger shipped a knee injury.

With both gone from today's game, Townsend's attacking options in his backline are now probably somewhat over-focused on skipper Stuart Hogg.

And not having the retired duo of Greig Laidlaw and John Barclay to lean on for leadership at this time of apparent difficulty suddenly looks very unfortunate for Townsend, who has been unable to get Scotland performing consistently since taking over in 2017.

Still, Fraser Brown, Jonny Gray and Sean Maitland have been around long enough, along with Hogg, to surely dismiss any firm notion that the Scots are suffering a leadership crisis in addition to their poor results and falling out with Russell.

But a heavy burden now falls on the shoulders of the fairly inexperienced Adam Hastings as he plays 10 today, in place of the exiled Russell.

And with Ali Price as his scrum-half, Hastings simply has to face-down the intimidating figure of opposite number Johnny Sexton and somehow release Hogg, Maitland and Huw Jones into space.

It looks a tough ask, and especially so if the Scots find it heavy going up front, though at least they have flanker Hamish Watson to cause potential mayhem at the breakdown and nurse new cap, and Edinburgh club-mate, Nick Haining through his first taste of this environment.

Indeed, Townsend will be hoping that club familiarity - along with the dangerous Jamie Ritchie, all the Scots' back-row play for Edinburgh - along with a certain 'circle the wagons' mentality will give today's visitors some form of edge.

In order to achieve this, and seriously discomforting Ireland does appear to be a somewhat unlikely event, then Scotland have to start by unleashing their frustration and fury in a manner that gets points on the board.

Not only that, but they must also be much more solid defensively than in last year's Six Nations when only Italy, who were the only team the Scots defeated, conceded more tries.

Something more akin to their backs-to-the-wall display at Twickenham when coming back from being 31-0 down to agonisingly draw 38-38 is needed today.

And they might be able to pull it off too, though back then a certain Finn Russell was on the field when things became spectacularly fast and loose.

Such drama isn't likely today.

Belfast Telegraph