Saturday 28 January 2023 Dublin: 6°C
©INPHO/Dan Sheridan Paul O'Connell will lead from the front for Ireland.
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3 key battles for Ireland to win against Scotland in Dublin
With Joe Schmidt’s men looking to get underway with a victory, these head-to-heads could be crucial.

Paul O’Connell v Tim Swinson

The Ireland captain appears ideally primed to have an excellent Six Nations campaign. His fitness is not an issue, while his form for Munster has been superb. Generally not the most effective attacking player in open play, the Limerick man has improved greatly in his carrying and passing over the last year.

It is a sign of the iconic second row’s hunger that he is still progressing at the age of 34 and he will be eager to lead the fight against Scotland. His technical skill in the tight and at the breakdown is unrivaled, while his Dan Lydiate-inspired chop tackling is also very potent.

Swinson has taken something of a roundabout route to international rugby, impressing in the Premiership for Newcastle, enjoying a gap year with Sydney University and qualifying for the Scots through his grandmother. An intensely aggressive, ball carrying lock, the 26-year-old will relish the chance to go toe-to-toe with O’Connell.

Luke Marshall v Duncan Taylor

Two men who quite possibly wouldn’t have been starting were it not for the injury and illness of their direct competition for the 12 jerseys. Marshall is back at inside centre after a busy performance there against Australia last November, in which brilliant line breaks were balanced by a defensive error.

imageMarshall is back in the 12 shirt for Ireland. ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan.

The Ulsterman is extremely powerful in contact, an area of his game that has been significantly more utilised than the playmaking skills the 22-year-old possessed as an underage star. Indeed, the fact that both province and country have used him as a primary ball carrier means his handling and kicking skills appear to have regressed.

Regardless, his directness will be needed to get Ireland over the gainline in the backs, especially if weather conditions prove difficult. Taylor has been in fine form for Saracens, with his hard running now being complemented by an improved ability to fix defenders before passing. Matt Scott’s comeback from injury only resulted in a bench spot, so Taylor gets his chance in midfield.

Jamie Heaslip v David Denton

The Leinster No. 8 is likely to be handed more ball carrying responsibility in the absence of Sean O’Brien, an area of the game where he excelled when first breaking onto the international scene. With Chris Henry in the team, much of the ‘unseen’ work Heaslip normally carries out may well take a back seat in favour of getting his hands on the ball more often.

imageHeaslip will be tasked with more ball carrying responsibility. ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan.

If that is the case, the 30-year-old’s footwork should allow him to make positive yardage. For Scotland’s No. 8 Denton, dynamic strength usually provides the means for doing so. The Edinburgh back row has suffered from noticeable dips in form at times since breaking into the Scottish set-up in 2011, but at 23 appears to be building a mental system that allows him to deliver more consistently.

As a two-time Lion, Heaslip will feel he can get the edge over his youthful rival, but Denton does look well suited to this encounter in Dublin.

Where do you think the game will be won and lost? Which players provide the key to victory for their respective sides?

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