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Six Nations preview: Reach for the sky, Ireland

Scotland’s pack will be out to impress. Ireland must win the aerial battle to win the game.

Peter O'Mahony jumps in the line-out during yesterday's captain's run.
Peter O'Mahony jumps in the line-out during yesterday's captain's run.
Image: ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

BLACK AND BLUE has been the theme colour of the week.

It’s the colour of those Scottish jerseys, being leisurely folded and pressed while their owners relaxed, feet up, watching Ireland come from hell and back against France.

It’s the colour of Munster knees, big and small, after Paul O’Connell and Conor Murray did ligament damage… it’s probably best we don’t check the exact shade of Sean O’Brien’s infected foot.

Injuries are part and parcel of any sport, especially during a high-octane, short-term competition like the Six Nations. It is just difficult to escape the feeling that we could have been more prepared for their arrival.

O’Connell aside, Declan Kidney has arrived at some calls many people have been crying out for. The presence of Donnacha Ryan and Peter O’Mahony, hungry young grafters in the pack, will give a different dynamic to the squad.

Without the talismanic pack leader, though, Ireland have little scope to go out and attack the opposition forwards either in the set-piece or the breakdown.

O’Connell is arguably the player Ireland can least afford to be without. His skills in the line-out combined with that unquantifiable leadership quality make this a game easily lost, when once it was earmarked as the chance to try new combinations.

Look across the line and the Scottish pack (albeit on evidence a fortnight old) is bursting at the seams. Richie Gray and David Denton are capable of running riot and with two open sides also in the mix, the Scots are really enjoying exchanges in the tight thus far.

Yet they are still without a win.

The old chestnut of having no creativity in the backline was dealt a hammer blow by the precocious Stuart Hogg. But his first international start on enemy territory will pit him against the form fullback in world rugby; one who just happens to enjoy throwing his weight around when chasing a Garryowen.

The high ball has been an incredibly effective weapon for Ireland. Against Scotland it will be more important than ever as vast tracts of the field will be rendered impassable by a dominant and suffocating Scottish pack.

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Against an inexperienced fullback, exciting with ball in hand but small in stature, an efficient kick-chase could be enough win the game. The reaction from a raucous crowd to a momentum shift can provide the greatest heave for a pack with home advantage.

Lurking

Andy Robinson will be expecting the high balls to rain in and the visitors will look to take the ball into contact early and often. If Ireland can repel the likes of Gray, Denton and Ross Ford then they will be forced to get the ball out to midfield where Tommy Bowe will be lurking, aiming to pick up from where he left off in that first half in Paris.

Scotland arrive hoping for a repeat of a 23-20 win on a dark day in Croke Park. Even with bodies battered and bruised, Ireland have the tools needed to bypass the visitors’ greatest strengths.

It’s blue-sky thinking.

Click here for more of TheScore.ie’s Six Nations coverage >

Open thread: how do you think Ireland will do against Scotland today?

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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