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'This is the first time in a while Scotland have players that can really hurt us'

Leamy wants big-game battle from Ireland’s emerging back-row to counteract Vern Cotter’s improving side

Denis Leamy never suffered Six Nations defeat to Scotland during his international career.
Denis Leamy never suffered Six Nations defeat to Scotland during his international career.
Image: Donall Farmer/INPHO

DENIS LEAMY EXPECTS the developing back-row of CJ Stander, Josh van der Flier and Jamie Heaslip to be “up against it” when they meet a Scottish side primed to overturn Ireland’s recent dominance of the countries’ Six Nations rivalry.

Ireland have only lost two of their last 14 Six Nations clashes with Scotland, with victory in 2001 ushering in an era of dominance that marked the end of the Scots’ winning run that lasted throughout the 1990s.

Leamy never experienced defeat against the Scots in the competition during his seven-year international career, sitting out the 2010 loss due to injury, but he believes that Vern Cotter’s side are an improving force.

Scotland are heading into Saturday’s match at Aviva Stadium after back-to-back wins over France and Italy following their tight losses to England and Wales.

“There was a period where Ireland had struggled for years to beat Scotland and then suddenly we had a period of domination over them for the best part of 10 years,” noted Leamy.

know Scotland managed to beat Ireland a few years ago (2010) in Dublin, but this is probably the first time in a while that the Scottish team has players that can really hurt you in the likes of (Stuart) Hogg and (Tommy) Seymour and these sort of guys,” continued the Munster man. “They’re a very good side and there’s a bit of confidence in Scottish rugby and you can see why.

“I think the present-day squad will be well aware that if they’re not mentally right and don’t go through their detail as needed, it could be a bad day,” added Leamy, who pin-pointed the teams’ respective back-rows as key areas this weekend.

“Their (Scotland’s) back-row is very good, and Scotland have always had good back-rows over a recent period of time,” said Leamy. “I think they out-muscled France and dictated the game at the breakdown and that’s where a lot of the game was won and lost. Obviously the Gray brothers (Jonny and Richie) are very influential in that pack and they bring a huge amount of quality into what they do.”

On that note, the Tipperary native expects Stander and Van der Flier to encounter a particularly testing challenge which should measure their international development.

“The Irish back-row will be up against it, that’s not something that will phase them but there will be big games needed from CJ, Jamie (Heaslip) and Josh. They’ll need to do what they did last week (against Italy) and probably bring a little bit more as well,” said Leamy.

“This will be a different test. I’ve been very impressed with CJ and Josh, they’re both new to international rugby and they’ve both taken very well to that standard and level.

“CJ gives you so much impact on the ball and gets you on that go-forward that you need so much at this level. He’s a guy that looks to the manor born to the same degree that Josh does. He’s a little bit younger and a guy to get very excited about,” added the 34-year-old.

Josh van der Flier and CJ Stander Josh van der Flier and CJ Stander have quickly developed at international level, according to Leamy. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

While last weekend’s victory over Italy finally saw Ireland return to winning ways, the likes of scrum-half Conor Murray have admitted that the campaign has been a disappointing one after their back-to-back championship triumphs in 2014-15.

Leamy maintains that it has been a productive tournament for Joe Schmidt, however, in the sense that he has introduced fresh blood to regular international action during a campaign hit by injury.

“It’s easy to be critical… and expectations are very high but the dynamic can change a little bit in that the Irish squad has suffered a huge amount of injuries. You just think of Iain Henderson, Peter O’Mahony, Sean O’Brien, there’s been injury to our front-row players and obviously the retirement of Paul O’Connell as well,” said Leamy.

“The margins are small at this level and I just feel with the amount of guys that Ireland are missing, and with the new players, it hasn’t been as bad a campaign as some people would lead you to believe.

“I think Joe has taken a very good attitude in that he’s introduced the new players bit by bit. You see the likes of Ultan Dillane getting exposure and then Josh and Kieran Marmion and these kind of guys and I think it’s a good way to go about it because it’s not a massive overhaul.

“He’s got a nice blend of youth and experience and he’s letting these guys to an extent feel their way into international rugby. It takes a little bit of time to get to the pitch of that level and standard,” added Leamy, speaking in promotion of Heineken Rugby Club.

Source: HeinekenIRE/YouTube

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