Ireland boss Andy Farrell in Rome. Tommy Dickson/INPHO
The Boss

'They always seem pretty important against Scotland, don’t they?'

Andy Farrell’s Ireland need to show a complete picture of what they’re about.

THE IDEA OF an ’80-minute performance’ is a little flawed given that Test-level opposition are always likely to have at least one purple patch within a game. Refereeing decisions or the simple bounce of a ball can also grapple momentum away from you.

Even still, Andy Farrell’s Ireland need to deliver something complete tomorrow against Scotland in the Six Nations as they look for their second win in the championship. Lose and Ireland will go into their final-round clash against England in Dublin facing the prospect of winning just one game in the Six Nations for the first time since 2013 when the Declan Kidney era came to an end.

To be fair, Ireland were under pressure to deliver against the Scots last December at the end of their Autumn Nations Cup campaign and came up trumps with a 31-16 victory that secured third place in that makeshift competition.

The Farrell era also started with a game against the Scots in Dublin back in February 2020 when Stuart Hogg infamously dropped the ball over the line as Ireland claimed a 19-12 success.

“They always seem pretty important against Scotland, don’t they?” said Farrell yesterday after confirming three changes to his starting team.

“The [2019] World Cup’s first game and then obviously the first time we played Scotland under my reign, etc., and we’re going into this game wanting a performance and a victory on the back of that.

“So look, it’s always pretty special playing against the Scots, and rightly so. It’s the rivalry isn’t it, and it’s what makes the Six Nations so special.

“Like I have said over the course of this Six Nations, the want for a victory, all the different emotions that happen during the competition is the reason why we all love this game, this competition.”

The weather forecast for Edinburgh tomorrow has changed across the course of this week from wind and rain to sunny spells and back again. Farrell insisted yesterday that Ireland want to play and show their attacking ambition in dry conditions.

stuart-hogg-knocks-the-ball-on-at-the-try-line Ireland had a close scrape against the Scots last year. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

The selection of Jamison Gibson-Park ahead of Conor Murray, who is back from a hamstring injury but hasn’t played in five weeks so sits on the bench, means a more attacking ball-in-hand approach probably suits Ireland anyway.

Gibson-Park has box-kicked well in recent games and that will obviously be part of the Irish strategy, but a balanced approach would also see Farrell back his sniping and decision-making threat around the ruck, as well as bringing wings James Lowe and Keith Earls into play in better positions more often.

Scotland, of course, have their own lethal attacking threats in Stuart Hogg, Duhan van der Merwe, and the creative Finn Russell, meaning Ireland’s defence will need to be sharp. Farrell feels Ireland’s pack have a major part to play in controlling their influence.

“Like any game with top-class backs that are quite quick and dynamic in how they want to play the game – control the unpredictability, you have got to control the game up front, haven’t you? There is no doubt about that,” said Farrell.

“They will either play with their dinner suit on or not because of the speed of ball that they’ll require to be able to play into space.

“It’s up to us to make sure that we slow that ball down so that we can put some pressure on them ourselves.”

Ireland’s pack has generally edged the physicality stakes against the Scots, although they were ferocious in the 2020 Six Nations game when they did some damage at scrum time. Happily for Ireland, they come into this game with their scrum in a good place under John Fogarty and their lineout improving under Paul O’Connell, particularly defensively.

The stakes are high for Farrell, who believes his team is ready to click into top gear in the last two rounds of this Six Nations.

“I’ve seen us grow, I’ve certainly seen us grow,” said Farrell.

“Obviously, the first performance was a difficult one to judge although the intent was there against Wales, and then you look forward to the last performance [against Italy], there’s some real good intent in our play.

“We respected the game in the right manner. Our attitude was spot on and I’ve seen that grow over the last couple of weeks and we’re hoping to go out in these last two games and
show exactly what our potential looks like.”

- This article was updated at 9.54am to correct the second paragraph to indicate that Ireland won only one game in the 2013 Six Nations.

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