Thursday 2 February 2023 Dublin: 10°C
Ireland look to Zebo's 'X-factor' at fullback as Cotter's Scots visit Dublin
Opportunity knocks for Ian Madigan at out-half, while Gordon D’Arcy is at 12.

THE FIXTURE IS different, the team features 14 changes, but the message from Joe Schmidt is the same.

After men like Keith Earls, Jordi Murphy and Eoin Reddan impressed last weekend in Wales, it’s the turn of others such as Ian Madigan, Gordon D’Arcy and Dan Tuohy to have a go this evening in Dublin (KO 5pm, Sky Sports 1).

Joe Schmidt with Ian Madigan Billy Stickland / INPHO Joe Schmidt talks tactics with out-half Madigan at the Aviva Stadium yesterday. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Vern Cotter’s Scotland begin their own World Cup warm-up schedule with this visit to Dublin, and while Ireland are aware of the qualities in this Scottish team they are very much focused on their taking care of their own house again.

For Madigan at out-half, Simon Zebo at fullback, D’Arcy at 12, debutant Jack Conan in the back row and Dave Kilcoyne at loosehead, standing out on an individual level is important, but Schmidt’s Ireland don’t have any time for players who are inwardly focused.

You want players to understand that in these moments where you’re under stress or under pressure to say ‘what can I do individually to make my game look good,’ it will only work if you play as a team and stay composed and poised in the pressure moment,” explains assistant coach Les Kiss.

“The system has to be good and to extend that further, we need Ian and everyone else to have composure. Don’t overplay your hand, the basics are going to be very important in this game.”

Ireland have pinpointed Scotland captain Henry Pyrgos as a key danger, capable of attacking either side of the ruck and demanding a constant focus from the defensive team.

Simon Zebo Billy Stickland / INPHO Zebo brings the 'X-factor' for Ireland at 15. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Cotter’s men love to shift the ball quickly to the edges on turnover ball, while their back row has the mobility to range wide but also power forward in the tight. Kiss has highlighted the dangers, now the Irish players need to ensure they carry out their specific roles.

In attack, the inclusion of Zebo at fullback offers playmaking possibilities that excite.

It’s been good, the left foot is also very handy,” says Kiss of the Munster man’s move to 15. “I think Simon’s one of those players who can slot between those two positions very easily, albeit he plays left wing and not right.

“Simon has got that little bit of X-factor and he’s aware that the X-factor will be a result of doing all the basics well as well. So he’s been impressive.”

Despite the wholesale changes and the ongoing absence of several front liners, Ireland again have a relatively experienced team. The only new cap is Jack Conan, the 23-year-old who looks physically ready for the test ahead.

The Ireland squad to face Scotland Billy Stickland / INPHO The Ireland squad lined up in the Aviva yesterday. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Sean O’Brien captains the team from number eight, with Conan at six, and will be a reassuring presence alongside his Leinster teammate.

“I think Jack is very excited, he’s been very energetic during the week,” says O’Brien.

He has that athleticism that we’re looking for as well and I’m looking forward to seeing him get out there myself even. It’s great for him and it’s going to be a proud day for him, so it’s very exciting.”

We’ve seen ‘bolters’ before and Conan has nothing to lose in unleashing his physical power at the Aviva this evening. For others like Madigan, Zebo and D’Arcy there are individual concerns too, but only ones that can be affected within a collective system.


15. Simon Zebo
14. Tommy Bowe
13. Jared Payne
12. Gordon D’Arcy
11. Luke Fitzgerald
10. Ian Madigan
9. Isaac Boss

1. Dave Kilcoyne
2. Sean Cronin
3. Mike Ross
4. Devin Toner
5. Dan Tuohy
6. Jack Conan
7. Chris Henry
8. Sean O’Brien (captain)


16. Richardt Strauss
17. Michael Bent
18. Nathan White
19. Paul O’Connell
20. Jordi Murphy
21. Eoin Reddan
22. Paddy Jackson
23. Dave Kearney


15. Ruaridh Jackson
14. Sean Lamont
13. Richie Vernon
12. Peter Horne
11. Tim Visser
10. Greig Tonks
9. Henry Pyrgos (captain)

1. Ryan Grant
2. Fraser Brown
3. Jon Welsh
4. Jim Hamilton
5. Grant Gilchrist
6. Blair Cowan
7. Hugh Blake
8. Dave Denton


16. Ross Ford
17. Gordon Reid
18. Mike Cusack
19. Rob Harley
20. John Barclay
21. Sam Hidalgo-Clyne
22. Duncan Weir
23. Matt Scott

Referee: Pascal Gaüzère

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