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We'll crank up heat on Russell and force mistakes, vows Easterby

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

'Team targets out-half' is an age-old Six Nations trope, but like all well-worn storylines there is plenty of reality behind it.

Johnny Sexton's name is regularly taken in vain by opposition coaches in the build-up to games against Ireland, but this week the focus is on the Dubliner's opposite number - the mercurial Finn Russell. The Glasgow out-half is a compelling figure, capable of winning and losing a game at a moment's notice.

Against England, he delivered one of the moments of the Six Nations to date with his delicious, risky, floated pass to unleash Huw Jones. Having endured criticism for his performance against Wales and being hauled ashore early against France, it was a brave choice.

There is a sense with Russell that, while he has the capacity for the audacious game-breaking moments for his team, he can also afford opportunities to his opponents if put under pressure.

And Ireland plan on doing just that, disrupting his supply of ball at set-piece and the breakdown where possible to put the out-half on the back foot.

Forwards coach Simon Easterby said: "That would be the case every week. We would pressurise those guys in the key positions, the decision-making positions. Finn Russell would be no different to a Joey Carbery or a Johnny Sexton.

"Looking at the flip-side, they will be looking to put pressure onto our key players and we need to make sure that we don't allow that to happen.

"It goes back to the set-piece, we'll start by pressurising that and then everything has a knock-on effect. Hopefully it's a positive effect for us and a negative for them. Don't get me wrong, the contact area and how we enter the tackle situation, how smart we are there - all of those things will have an impact on the quality and delivery of the ball.

"We know how important that is for the likes of Finn Russell, (Peter) Horne outside him and Huw Jones - all guys who are capable of opening a team up.

"Scotland have shown how positive they have been with ball in hand, they are prepared to keep width in their game, they were very effective at either stopping England's momentum or turning the ball over.

"It's about us being really clinical when we've got the ball, making sure we don't allow those threats to get in over the ball.

"The flip-side of that is making sure that when we don't have the ball that we deal with the situations in front of us. So, it's about staying connected on both sides of the ball and making sure we don't give them little windows."

If Ireland can get the upper hand at the ruck, it will limit Russell's time and space and force him into making decisions under pressure.

The rewards could be rich.

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