'Their back three is a deadly mix' - Les Kiss on Scotland's threats

The Ireland coach expects Stuart Hogg to offer danger, while he says the breakdown battle will be key.

Kiss had a spell as South Africa's defence coach from 2001 until 2003.
Kiss had a spell as South Africa's defence coach from 2001 until 2003.
Image: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

AFTER A YEAR that could certainly be filed away under the ‘transition’ banner, it’s difficult to know exactly what to expect from Scotland in Dublin on Sunday.

We can rest assured that Joe Schmidt and his coaching team have picked apart their win over Japan last November in minute detail, as well as the defeats to South Africa and Australia. In times gone past, the Scots have relied on the scrapping of their forwards to compete, while try-scoring has been an issue for a number of years.

However, Ireland assistant coach Les Kiss believes that the return of Stuart Hogg to a back three that also includes fellow Lion Sean Maitland and the hard-working Sean Lamont provides Scott Johnson’s side with a potentially decisive attacking power.

“The whole back three is dangerous. Hogg’s back into form; we know he’s a very dangerous player, particularly when he changes the direction of the game or if you kick loosely to him. His counter-attack is lethal.

Then you’ve got Lamont and Maitland working off him; it makes it even more lethal. So there are some challenges there. The other smart thing they have is that Hogg can kick the ball long, so if you over-commit on kick chase, they suddenly kick at you and you’re under pressure.

“Their back three is a deadly mix and they’re also fairly smart, so we’ll have to be cute in how we play them.”

Mention of Hogg’s kicking game is certainly worth taking note of, particularly given the selection of Duncan Weir at out-half. The more creative attacking skills of Ruaridh Jackson have been ignored in favour of the Glasgow Warriors 10, who possesses stronger kicking abilities.

If the Scots are to look to the air and play for territory, the interventions of Ireland fullback Rob Kearney will be key. The Leinster man is in good form and well up to the task, according to Kiss.

imageKiss is confident in the form of Kearney at fullback. ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan.

“Absolutely, [it's] very good for us. Under the high ball, he’s probably one of the best in the world. His running game is in fine fettle and I think one of the keys – when you know he’s in good form – is that he’s making those last-ditch tackles, good defensive decisions at the back.

“I think he’s in a good place, so hopefully that continues for him.”

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The other area of concern for Ireland will be the breakdown, where Kiss predicts a “tenacious” effort from the Scottish trio of Kelly Brown, Dave Denton and Ryan Wilson. The former Australian rugby league international’s foreboding words suggest that Chris Henry may be suited to this particular battle.

We know that they’re always abrasive, always aggressive. Their back row are relentless in how they go at the game, they’ll be trying to spoil us. So we have a huge battle in that area and one of the key things is to have the right discipline.

“Referees come out with edicts, they’re looking for accuracy around the breakdown and the tackle area. It’s important for us that we maintain the quality of work that we had in November. We were the least penalised team on a game-by-game basis in November; our discipline and accuracy was good.

“We need to stay in that place, because if you give away penalties, Laidlaw can kick them from anywhere. It’s important to maintain discipline in that area.”

Not conceding penalties is clearly very important for Ireland, but it would be preferable if we saw a repeat of the breakdown aggression Schmidt’s side brought against New Zealand, rather than the feeble, hesitant rucking display that featured a week earlier against Australia.

Discipline is vital, but Schmidt and Kiss will surely focus on tasking their men with an assault on the Scottish breakdown too. Kill the ball early, and that dangerous back three will struggle to get into the game.

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Murray Kinsella

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