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Scotland expect 'the same kicking accuracy that you’d get with Murray'

Gregor Townsend feels Ireland’s strengths haven’t changed too much under Andy Farrell.

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend.
Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

SCOTLAND BOSS GREGOR Townsend says his team are expecting a familiar aerial challenge from Ireland in Sunday’s Six Nations clash at Murrayfield.

Sean Maitland is one of four changes to Townsend’s starting XV, with the Saracens wing selected ahead of Darcy Graham because of his superior aerial skills.

“Given our opponents’ potential strategy, we feel Sean’s strengths are better suited to this game,” said Townsend this afternoon.

While Ireland have opted for Jamison Gibson-Park at scrum-half again over Conor Murray, who is on the bench after recovering from a hamstring injury, Townsend still feels Andy Farrell’s team will bring box-kicking accuracy.

“I think Gibson-Park plays at a real tempo, he snipes the wide channels and has a good relationship with his wingers,” said Townsend. “He has very good basics and we expect the same kicking accuracy that you’d get with Murray.”

Scotland played two games against Farrell’s Ireland last year, losing both, and Townsend says the strengths that Joe Schmidt’s teams were formerly based on still ring true despite the change in head coach.

“There are a lot of similarities from Ireland over the last few years, a strong set-piece and the lineout has been excellent over the last three or four games,” said Townsend in a nod to Paul O’Connell’s work as forwards coach. 

“They are very good in contact, they’ve always had the best contact efficiency over the last few years and that’s continued.

“They’re also showing a willingness to compete for the ball when you’re attacking, evidenced by picking someone like Tadhg Beirne and also their philosophy.

“They’re certainly looking to play with ambition when they cross the halfway line and bring their back three into play much more.”

Townsend has yet to taste victory against Ireland in his time in charge of the Scotland team, having taken over the summer after their most recent win in this fixture in the 2017 Six Nations.

The Scots were close to beating Farrell’s side on the opening day of the 2020 Six Nations when Stuart Hogg knocked the ball on over the tryline.

The former Glasgow Warriors boss is hoping his men can go one better this weekend.

“It’s probably about an 80-minute performance and making the most of opportunities. In the last three games we’ve played against them, we’ve created opportunities. Two years ago at Murrayfield and the last two occasions in Dublin, parts of those games have gone our way.

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“In the autumn [last year], we were 9-3 up and playing good rugby, but they dominated for periods and put points on the board.

“We know it’ll be a physical contest and that Ireland will have time in our 22. We have to make sure they don’t come away with points on a regular basis and we have to take our chances when we do get them.” 

Meanwhile, Townsend said Scotland are still awaiting confirmation of their rescheduled game against France, which is in line to be played on Friday 26 March, a date he said “would suit everybody.”

“There’s a few things to be sorted, notably getting all our players available and agreed to release from clubs in England and France,” said Townsend. “I believe those discussions are ongoing and I’m not sure when they’ll be resolved, but it’ll be soon.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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