|Date: Saturday, 5 December Where: Aviva Stadium, Dublin Kick-off: 14:15 GMT|
|Coverage: Commentary on BBC Radio Scotland, updates at BBC Sport website|
You didn’t need to see the narkiness between Glasgow and Munster in their recent battle at Scotstoun to know about the lack of love between Scottish and Irish rugby. There’s a catalogue of incidents going back years that capture it, some serious, some comical.
Only a few weeks ago, Simon Zebo, the former Munster full-back and now club-mate of Finn Russell at Racing, spoke about the flak he copped when his then Munster pals found out that he was following the combative Glasgow back row Ryan Wilson on Instagram.
Zebo was gently encouraged to unfollow, pronto. The Munster boys don’t like Wilson all that much, a reality that Wilson absolutely revels in.
For all that, the Scots have been seriously accommodating to Ireland in recent times, but not in a way that was intended.
When the Irish were in need of a morale-boosting win after being horsed by England in the opening round of the 2019 Six Nations, they came to Edinburgh and got it in round two. Scotland helped them on their way by gifting an early score to Conor Murray.
When Ireland were again in need of a confidence-boost following another beasting by England prior to the World Cup, they got it from the compliant Scots in their opening game in Yokohama.
Scotland made it so easy for Joe Schmidt’s team that the game was done in the 25 minutes it took Ireland to score three tries.
The World Cup turned out to be as much of a horror show for Ireland as it was for Scotland and here again the Scots proved handy fodder when the Irish needed them most.
With flak flying in all directions after their failure in Japan – and with Andy Farrell in as Schmidt’s replacement – Ireland were in poor shape when they hosted Scotland at the beginning of the 2020 Six Nations.
Once again, they were given a lift. Once again, via Stuart Hogg’s blunder in not touching the ball down correctly for a try, they were assisted by their Celtic chums.
Ireland under pressure
On Saturday, they meet again. The Autumn Nations Cup hasn’t floated many boats but this could be an interesting one.
Ireland find themselves in need of another shot in the arm following a dismal loss to England and a victory against Georgia last weekend that has been described in various places as “lamentable”, “a car crash” and “one of worst performances in many years”.
Farrell is under pressure, his attack coach Mike Catt is under pressure, the team is under pressure.
Ireland have become accustomed to beating Scotland, particularly in Dublin. If they lose this one then Farrell is going to find himself under the cosh in a major way going into the Six Nations.
He’s gone as strong as he can possibly go with this starting line-up. No more experimentation at 10 – Johnny Sexton is back. No more searching for something different at nine – Conor Murray returns.
No more looking around for a new loose-head – Cian Healy is in there again. Iain Henderson, the Ulster Lion, has been picked to partner James Ryan in the second row. Farrell is not messing about.
Are the Scots about to ride to the rescue once again? There’s an anxiety about that in Ireland. Losing to England and France is one thing, but losing to Scotland is quite another.
Irish rugby folk can just about accept being third in the Six Nations – just – but if they’re in danger of being overtaken by Scotland and put into fourth then that’s a problem. More than that, it’s a borderline crisis.
So while this game will be played with no fans present and no trophy at stake, it’s an important barometer Test all the same. For Ireland and for Scotland.
Gregor Townsend hasn’t quite gone full metal jacket in his selection and there are reasons for that – the cancellation of the Fiji game changed things somewhat.
The likelihood is that Jaco van der Walt – the new South African debutant – would have started that game instead of this one.
The probability is that Blair Cowan and Huw Jones, who haven’t seen a minute’s action so far in the autumn, would have been in the 1st XV against Fiji, too.
Townsend wants to reward their efforts in training with some game-time, so here it is, in Dublin against Ireland rather than in Edinburgh against Fiji.
He’s also wanting to look at different things in his back row. Hamish Watson has been given a week off. Jamie Ritchie is moving from six to seven with Blade Thomson switching from eight to six. Thomson hasn’t nailed down that eight jersey. Nobody has.
In this run of games, against France, Matt Fagerson turned in the best performance of a Scottish number eight. Along with Duhan van der Merwe, Fagerson was Scotland’s top carrier against the French. He gets another crack at it.
Scotland aim to make statement
That game in Dublin in February was one that got away from Scotland. Nobody knows that more than the Irish.
The visitors won the scrum battle and the collisions, they created more chances and had more visits to Ireland’s 22, but the game was won and lost on the floor.
Ireland’s work at the breakdown, whether it was CJ Stander or Peter O’Mahony turning over ball on their own line, was exceptional.
Scotland had no end of reason to feel angst. Hogg’s dropped ball was the cherry on top of the near-misses, but the viewing of that DVD would have made for a painful session.
Adam Hastings went needlessly high in the tackle on Sexton and it eventually led to three points.
Ali Price gave away a soft one in an incident with Murray – another three points. Sam Johnson gave away a daft one in a clash with Andrew Conway – another three.
Throw in the loss of another five with Hogg’s faux pas and you see how wounding a defeat it was. Only seven points separated the sides at the end.
Coulda, woulda, shoulda. Fair enough. They’re still without Russell’s brilliance and have not been scoring many tries, or points, but they’ve been winning games – five of the last six.
They also have a belief in themselves now that they didn’t have in the spring, all of it built on the solidity of their scrum and the stinginess of their defence.
If they want to announce themselves as contenders in the Six Nations then winning in Dublin for the first time in 10 years – having already won in Wales for the first time in 18 years – would be a sure-fire way of showing it.
— to www.bbc.co.uk