Andy Farrell's Ireland host Scotland at the Aviva Stadium as the home side look to a new era following the departure of Joe Schmidt as manager.
Ireland begin the post-Joe Schmidt era with a home match against Scotland as Andy Farrell takes charge of his first game with the nation. Following a desperately disappointing World Cup that saw the side hammered in the quarter-finals by New Zealand, all eyes will be on Farrell’s ability to pick up the pieces in a new World Cup cycle, with the old heads and a real smattering of youth providing Irish fans with hope that the build up to France 2020 will begin with a win against Scotland.
For Scotland this is a match in which so much seems to already be riding on the result, with the travelling side always seemingly one bad result away from falling apart. The Scottish ended last year’s Six Nations in fifth-place after a campaign which probably should have ended very differently. A single win over Italy in their opening match was followed by losses to Ireland, France and Wales before they secured a try-scoring bonus point draw with England in their last game, although this would have been a heavy loss had it not been for England completely switching off and Scotland playing at a level above what they have displayed over the last decade and more.
Having been 31-0 down in the first-half in that game against England, Scotland somehow managed to bounce back and lead 38-31 with only five minutes to go, however, despite holding all of the momentum with a few hundred seconds to go they somehow contrived to let the home side get back into the game and snatch a draw that on England’s display in the first-half was far less than they deserved but judging on the second 40 they scarcely could have believed they would get.
For Scotland though it was the worst possible result. At 31-0 down it was all about damage limitation, but they came roaring back into the match to lead and deservedly so. However, to miss out on a win against England at Twickenham for the first time in decades when the W was there to be taken is unforgivable. Of course, positives were taken from the match, but the most important thing was a win in a game they led with minutes to go and seemed to hold all of the aces in.
One man that was absolutely fantastic against England was Finn Russell, with the 10 in scintillating form as he became the match that started the Scotland fightback, while he has been outstanding for Racing 92 in France and in Europe, with the outfit constantly calling upon him to make something happen, which he so often does. However, our title alludes to the fact that Scotland will really struggle without Russell, who gives Scotland something they so desperately need – that spark of creativity. Russell’s omission, which is reportedly due to a drinking session on Sunday when the team convened prior to the Six Nations before he missed team training the next day has seen an apparent division between himself and coach Gregor Townsend grow deeper, and we wonder how much of him we will see this year in a Scottish shirt.
In this one, we feel that home advantage and, simply put, a more skilful group of players, will see Ireland win this match comfortably. The Irish have not lost to Scotland in their last three matches spanning back to 2017, while they have not lost to their opponents at home since 2010, with this coming in a shock 20-23 loss. Indeed, their last win over Scotland came in incredibly gritty and impressive circumstances as they defeated their opponents 27-3 in their World Cup group game. That performance should have been one which set Ireland up to go far in the tournament, but they were ultimately hammered by New Zealand, while for Scotland it saw them immediately on the back-foot in the group before they were beaten by a far better Japan side which knocked them out of the tournament. Despite the disappointing fortunes of the nations at the World Cup and how much the new coaching staff and players will want to ensure there are marked improvements, Ireland will still draw upon their comfortable win in high-pressure circumstances at the back-end of last year, while this loss and the ease at which Ireland worked Scotland out of the game will be at the back of their minds, especially when things start to go wrong.
With this in mind, we feel that backing Ireland to win by around two converted tries is the way to go. New coach Andy Farrell will most likely be looking for a confident home win to begin his time at the top, and we are not predicting too much of an all action game from the home side. Ireland are currently 11/4 with Paddy Power to win by 11-20 points, and we quite fancy this. In four of the last six between the two sides the victor has won by this scoreline, while the other two have seen Ireland win by nine points and 24 points, so the previous results seem to suggest this scoreline is the one to plump for.
Our second bet revolves around a player going over the line to score a try in the match. Some of the Scottish players do offer good value, but this should be tempered by the fact that they were kept try-less the last time these two came together at the World Cup. Instead, we are going for an Irish player to score anytime, which means we are going for old faithful Jacob Stockdale. While he was not as prolific in the 2019 tournament, he was awesome in the 2018 iteration of events as he notched seven tries in a dominant try-scoring display, paving the way for Rory Best and his Ireland team to secure a Grand Slam crown.
Perhaps we would have been tempted to go for a forward to get a try in this one and if we had, we would have gone for a hooker to be the man to score. Of course, this proposition is no longer as definite anymore as where Best would usually have been the first name on the team sheet as captain and the man to receive the ball at the back of a rolling maul from an attacking line-out, we question who will be played at two by Farrell, and whether their induction into the team will see the seamless cohesion between Irish forwards maintained going into a new championship, and new era.
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