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Furlong and Henderson returns boost Ireland for visit of dangerous Scots

The threat of Finn Russell, Huw Jones and Stuart Hogg will keep Ireland on their toes.
Mar 7th 2018, 3:24 PM 21,448 34

KEEPING THE POSSIBILITY of a Grand Slam alive is motivation enough, but Ireland feel they have a score to settle with this Scotland team.

Last year, Joe Schmidt’s side went to Edinburgh and delivered one of the more disappointing performances of his tenure, giving up a 14-0 lead in the opening quarter and then failing to see out the game after clawing their way back into a 22-21 advantage.

Joe Schmidt Joe Schmidt's side have plenty to motivate them this week. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

While some supporters might worry about Ireland taking their eye off the ball this weekend given the prospect of facing Eddie Jones’ England with a Grand Slam on the line a week later, that upset at Murrayfield still nags at Schmidt’s players.

“We owe a good performance against Scotland because we didn’t do ourselves justice last year,” says prop Jack McGrath. “We really want to get stuck into them and they’ll be looking to get stuck into us.”

For Schmidt and his coaches, such a recent defeat to the Scots essentially takes care of the focus this week.

“I’m not saying you’d want to lose to create a reason to win but there are lots of things in that game that we feel we could have done better and Scotland, to be fair to them, they were good that day,” is how forwards coach Simon Easterby puts it.

Perhaps most pertinent of all this week will be the memories of Ireland getting caught narrow in defence for Stuart Hogg’s two early tries – one coming on the end of Scottish phase play inside the Ireland 22 and the other on second phase of a lineout attack.

The errors for those two tries were as basic as the ones that allowed Wales to run three tries past Ireland two weekends ago, and while Schmidt and his players justifiably feel they are very fixable, the Scots will have sensed an opportunity.

The triple threat of Finn Russell’s passing game, Huw Jones’ line-running brilliance and Stuart Hogg’s footwork and acceleration should see Ireland regularly tested in the 15-metre channels this weekend.

Having conceded three tries in each of their two most recent Six Nations fixtures against Italy and the Welsh, Ireland have a point to prove.

Jonathan Sexton Johnny Sexton primes himself for yesterday's training session at Carton House. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“Italy and Wales, their attacking threat is always there and if one person gets one thing wrong, they exploit it,” says McGrath.

“So that’s pretty much what happened – a few people got a few things wrong, they showed up a few frailties there but we’ll fix them and we know we have to be extra sharp against Scotland because we saw the tries they scored against England and they’ve beaten Australia twice and ran New Zealand close.”

Russell showed his quality against the English – throwing one of the most sublime passes the Six Nations has ever witnessed – and it’s obvious that Ireland will need to pressurise the out-half on Saturday.

Easterby is quick to point out that the pressure is not just about getting a shoulder onto Russell, though.

“I guess it goes back to the set-piece, we’ll start by pressurising that and then everything has a knock-on effect,” says Easterby. “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 for any team.

“We know how important that is for the likes of Finn Russell, [Peter] Horne outside him and Huw Jones – all guys who, when they are given time and space, are capable of opening a team up.”

It will be fascinating to see if Scotland can reach the same emotional pitch they produced to beat England in the Calcutta Cup two weekends ago when they come to Dublin, while Ireland will feel better suited to limiting Gregor Townsend’s men at the breakdown.

Huw Jones Huw Jones will be a major danger to Ireland. Source: Craig Watson/INPHO

Captain John Barclay and his team did major damage to the English on the deck, but Ireland’s ruck security is always a primary focus and Wayne Barnes’ refereeing should ensure stricter policing in this area.

The returns to full training of tighthead prop Tadhg Furlong and Iain Henderson are a real boost to Schmidt’s team this week, while it will have been a relief that Johnny Sexton has also been free to take a full part following his back/glute issues before and during the Wales game.

Andrew Porter did an excellent job in Furlong’s absence last time out, underlining Ireland’s ever-growing depth, but the Wexford man looks certain to come back into the starting XV against Scotland.

Henderson seems an obvious choice alongside James Ryan after overcoming his hamstring niggle, but Devin Toner is in great form and has won more lineout balls than any other player in this Six Nations with 12, as well as one steal on the opposition throw.

With Garry Ringrose coming into the team at 13, the remainder of Ireland’s backline will remain settled, while it would be a surprise if Schmidt opts for further changes up front other than the re-introduction of Furlong and Henderson.

With three wins from three so far, the thought of a Grand Slam could have been a distraction but there is more than enough for Ireland to sink their teeth into with this visit of the dangerous Scots.

“It’s easy to say but I think it is part of the quality of this group that they are next-job focused and what comes after Scotland will only be as a direct impact of what happens against Scotland,” says Easterby.

“We’ll focus on that when we get past the weekend and hopefully it’s a positive outcome on the weekend so we can look forward to the potential of going to London and trying to grab something really special.”

Originally published at 07.15

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Murray Kinsella


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