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Ireland's Six Nations simmers into action today against pressurising Scots

Joe Schmidt and his side begin their campaign at Murrayfield this afternoon.

Scotland v Ireland, Murrayfield

Kick-off 2.25pm, RTE/ITV

THE BUILD-UP to these big Six Nations games can often be a bit of a bore, with both teams doing their best to say absolutely nothing at all.

Joe Schmidt and Ireland have largely kept up their side of that bargain in the past few days, but Scotland have broken ranks.

Conor Murray Conor Murray at yesterday's captain's run. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Captain Greig Laidlaw helped to set the tone when Scottish journalists teed him up to laud Ireland’s November win over New Zealand, with the scrum-half opting against the offering the mandatory plaudits and, instead, pointing out that the All Blacks had made mistakes.

“There was a clear difference why Ireland won the first game – because New Zealand’s error count was so high,” said Laidlaw.

“[New Zealand] made a lot of mistakes in the game, missed a lot of lineouts and didn’t give themselves a platform to launch attacks into the game.

“The key difference in the second match was they reduced their error count and were more aggressive in defence. Those were what we feel were the two main differences. We can take some stuff, some learnings out of that.”

Interesting, definitely interesting.

The latest Johnny Sexton saga has cast a shadow over this week too, with the Leinster man having been ruled out on Tuesday due to what Ireland describe as tightness in his calf.

That injured calf means Sexton cannot play, so up steps Paddy Jackson.

The tradition here is for the opposition team, Scotland in this case, to insist that the replacement player is just as good as the first-choice option, and perhaps even better in some ways.

“I think Ireland will miss Sexton a little bit, if I’m being honest,” said Laidlaw, however.

Paddy Jackson talks to his teammates Paddy Jackson delivers the tactical instructions. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

His head coach, Vern Cotter was happy to pile in too.

“Paddy has got the nod and he will have pressure on him,” said les yeux de glaces.” He will have to make decisions. If we can contribute to him making a few bad ones then we’d like to be able to do that.”

It might not be explosive pre-match trash talk, but we must welcome the Scots’ media approach this week.

Hell, hooker Fraser Brown – Keith Earls’ enemy – even went as far as to say Ireland cheat when it comes to some of their set-piece play.

“What the Irish do probably is cheating, but you could say that about every prop, hooker or front row who plays the game,” said Brown knowingly. “It’s not really cheating unless you get caught doing it and then you just try changing it a little bit.”

The Scots are clearly motivated for this fixture and possess a degree of confidence, but then Ireland have their own belief built on their November achievements.

“I think we’re confident we’ve put ourselves in a position to produce a performance,” said Ireland captain Rory Best. ”Obviously, there are a lot of factors that will contribute as to whether we do that or not and 15 men in Scottish jerseys will dictate most of that.

“We’ve had a good two weeks’ preparation. We generally prepare well and it’s just making sure we channel that in the right way and we have to make sure we do channel it in the right way tomorrow.

“Coming to Murrayfield, a lot of the times in Scotland, we know they’ll come out and there will be a lot of emotion. One of the great things in world rugby is the Flower of Scotland and the emotion that evokes in them.

“For us, we need to make sure that we don’t lose those early battles, we don’t lose those moments early in the game because they are more emotionally charged than us.

Rory Best Best practices his lineout throwing. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“We have to make sure that we appreciate we’re playing for Ireland, we’re pulling on a green jersey and, look, we have to be 100% disciplined but we also can’t be afraid to let out a little emotion ourselves.”

Certainly, the opening exchanges this afternoon should be very feisty and it’s unlikely to let up for the 80 minutes.

Bad blood between Munster and Glasgow, as well as the hangover from lots of tetchy moments during this fixture in Dublin in last year’s Six Nations, should fuel that fire.

While Sexton isn’t in the Ireland squad to take on the Scots, there are lots of other excellent players.

Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose get a chance to bring their Leinster centre partnership into the Test arena, while CJ Stander, Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip could wreak havoc from the back row.

Conor Murray is quite possibly the best scrum-half in the competition, and there may be a new cap for his Munster team-mate Niall Scannell of the bench in a further point of interest.

The biggest surprise of the week in terms of Ireland’s selection is that old favourite Tommy Bowe is back in the mix, having been named in the 23 shirt.

As the 32-year-old wing gets set for his first Ireland appearance since 2015, his Ulster team-mate Best welcomed him back.

“I think for anyone coming back from serious injury it shows that perseverance. I think along the way a lot of people had written him off.

“You get an injury like that and you are in your 30s, it is not just bad form, you’re done and that is what he had to contend with. It has been a long long time for him and at Ulster you would see him and the roller-caster of emotion he has been through.

Tommy Bowe Bowe is back in the Ireland squad. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“I am just delighted to see him. He was a massive loss for us at the World Cup when we had already lost a few through injuries, well to lose one like him was a big loss and it was probably over-shadowed by everyone because there was so many losses.

“To see him back and taking the field is a testament to the hard work he has put and the dedication he has put in to be as good as he was going to be and coming back and it is great for us to see.”

What odds of a Bowe try sealing the deal for Ireland this afternoon?

It would certainly be a nice way for Schmidt’s men to get the ball rolling. After a slightly more interesting preamble than is often the case, bring on the rugby.

Scotland:

15. Stuart Hogg
14. Sean Maitland
13. Huw Jones
12. Alex Dunbar
11. Tommy Seymour
10. Finn Russell
9. Greig Laidlaw (captain)

1. Allan Dell
2. Fraser Brown
3. Zander Fagerson
4. Richie Gray
5. Jonny Gray
6. Ryan Wilson
7. Hamish Watson
8. Josh Strauss

Substitutes:

16. Ross Ford
17. Gordon Reid
18. Simon Berghan
19. Tim Swinson
20. John Barclay
21. Ali Price
22. Duncan Weir
23. Mark Bennett

Ireland: 

15. Rob Kearney
14. Keith Earls
13. Garry Ringrose
12. Robbie Henshaw
11. Simon Zebo
10. Paddy Jackson
9. Conor Murray

1. Jack McGrath
2. Rory Best (captain)
3. Tadhg Furlong
4. Iain Henderson
5. Devin Toner
6. CJ Stander
7. Sean O’Brien
8. Jamie Heaslip

Replacements:

16. Niall Scannell
17. Cian Healy
18. John Ryan
19. Ultan Dillane
20. Josh van der Flier
21. Kieran Marmion
22. Ian Keatley
23. Tommy Bowe

Referee: Romain Poite [FFR].

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Murray Kinsella

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