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Scottish disciplinary breach adds to sense Ireland should claim Triple Crown

Andy Farrell’s men will also be hoping for a favour from England in Paris.

Johnny Sexton at the Aviva Stadium yesterday.
Johnny Sexton at the Aviva Stadium yesterday.
Image: Evan Treacy/INPHO

THOSE WITH A sense that Scotland were on a hiding to nothing against Ireland in Dublin today [KO 4.45pm, Virgin Media One] must have felt their confidence increase further when the news broke yesterday evening.

As reported by the BBC, six Scotland players were disciplined for breaking team protocols after their win over Italy last weekend.

Captain Stuart Hogg, Finn Russell, Ali Price, Darcy Graham, Sam Johnson, and Sione Tuipulotu were involved and it’s a poor look for a side who have been struggling to consistently convince under head coach Gregor Townsend.

Perhaps the demotion of Russell to the Scotland bench for this clash with Ireland makes a little more sense now, even if he hasn’t been in good form. The Racing 92 man was one of the players disciplined for leaving Scotland’s team hotel to go to a bar in Edinburgh after Townsend’s squad had arrived back from Rome.

Of course, Russell has been in hot water like this before. In 2020, he missed the opening game of the Six Nations against Ireland after being disciplined for a reported late-night drinking session.

There was a big fallout and Russell subsequently said he would need to see “big changes in the environment” before returning for the Scots, but he patched things up with Townsend and was back in the starting side for the 2021 Six Nations.

This latest incident hasn’t seen Townsend dropping any players out of the matchday 23 – indeed, Hogg, Price, Johnson, and Graham all start today – but it paints a poor picture of the state of the Scotland culture and squad standards. 

stuart-hogg-and-ali-price-celebrate-with-the-cuttitta-cup Scotland captain Stuart Hogg and scrum-half Ali Price. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

It adds to the sense of Ireland being particularly strong favourites at the Aviva Stadium, where a win would see Andy Farrell’s men claim the Triple Crown for beating Wales, England, and the Scots in this championship.

There is potentially much more on offer too. Victory for Ireland would take them to the top of the Six Nations table ahead of France’s clash with England in Paris at 8pm Irish time. It would add a little more pressure for les Bleus as they bid for the Grand Slam.

There are permutations, of course. If France draw, they could finish level on match points with Ireland, meaning points difference would be the deciding factor. Ireland being +84 to France’s +56 this morning is positive in that regard.

With Wales looking for their second win of the campaign at home against Italy on the occasion of Alun Wyn Jones’ 150th cap in the 2.15pm kick-off, we have a true feast of Six Nations rugby ahead of us on this Super Saturday.

For Ireland, the task today is clear. Their aim is to deliver their best performance yet in this championship, finishing with a bang to claim guaranteed silverware and leave themselves well positioned in case of a surprise at Stade de France.

Farrell has picked a team that looks capable of doing some damage to the Scots. Jack Conan returns at number eight to add extra ball-carrying dynamism to the back row, while Mack Hansen is in on the right wing to offer his deceptive attacking qualities.

With James Ryan ruled out due to a head injury, Iain Henderson comes into the second row keen to show what he’s all about after an ill-disciplined outing in Twickenham last weekend.

The Scots have made just two changes after last weekend’s win in Italy. With Russell dropped, Blair Kinghorn gets just his second Test start at out-half and it will be intriguing to see how he handles the pressure and responsibility.

mack-hansen Mack Hansen is back on the right wing for Ireland. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

There’s no doubting his attacking skills, but this is an altogether new test for him in the number 10 shirt. The returning Jonny Gray adds some grit to the Scottish tight five but Ireland will still expect to have an edge up front even without Andrew Porter and Rónan Kelleher. Ireland will no doubt be busy trying to keep the Scottish back row of Rory Darge, Matt Fagerson, and Hamish Watson.

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The Irish pack will be determined to recover from last weekend’s scrum debacle in Twickenham and also show some of their mauling power against these Scottish forwards.

Victory would see Ireland finish this Six Nations with four wins from five games, which would be an excellent return regardless of what happens in Paris. Such an outcome would underline that Farrell’s team continue to make progress and are back as genuine Six Nations contenders.

An unexpected win for Scotland would leave us with many questions about this Ireland squad but, in truth, it’s hard to see it.

With the relentlessly ambitious Johnny Sexton driving them on, Farrell’s men should have more than enough about them to claim a Triple Crown and maybe, just maybe, more than that.

 Ireland:

  • 15. Hugo Keenan
  • 14. Mack Hansen
  • 13. Garry Ringrose
  • 12. Bundee Aki
  • 11. James Lowe
  • 10. Johnny Sexton (captain)
  • 9. Jamison Gibson-Park
  • 1. Cian Healy
  • 2. Dan Sheehan
  • 3. Tadhg Furlong
  • 4. Tadhg Beirne
  • 5. Iain Henderson
  • 6. Caelan Doris
  • 7. Josh van der Flier
  • 8. Jack Conan

Replacements:

  • 16. Rob Herring
  • 17. Dave Kilcoyne
  • 18. Finlay Bealham
  • 19. Kieran Treadwell
  • 20. Peter O’Mahony
  • 21. Conor Murray
  • 22. Joey Carbery
  • 23. Robbie Henshaw

Scotland:

  • 15. Stuart Hogg (captain)
  • 14. Darcy Graham
  • 13. Chris Harris
  • 12. Sam Johnson
  • 11. Kyle Steyn
  • 10. Blair Kinghorn
  • 9. Ali Price
  • 1. Pierre Schoeman
  • 2. George Turner
  • 3. Zander Fagerson
  • 4. Jonny Gray
  • 5. Grant Gilchrist
  • 6. Rory Darge
  • 7. Hamish Watson
  • 8. Matt Fagerson

Replacements:

  • 16. Fraser Brown
  • 17. Allan Dell
  • 18. WP Nel
  • 19. Sam Skinner
  • 20. Josh Bayliss
  • 21. Ben White
  • 22. Finn Russell
  • 23. Mark Bennett

Referee: Wayne Barnes [RFU].

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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