Ireland host Scotland in Dublin on Saturday bidding for a victory that would tee up an all-out assault on a first Six Nations Grand Slam in nine years. Here, we examine the key talking points ahead of the Aviva Stadium showdown.
Ireland boss Joe Schmidt continues to defend his attacking style
Head coach Schmidt has been busy making points about Ireland’s attack this week, namely that his side boast plenty of variation, thank you very much. A host of pundits and rival coaches even have suggested openly that Ireland are moving ever more towards a direct style. Such intimations annoy Schmidt to the point that he challenged casual observers to "do more homework" this week. Ireland certainly expanded their gameplan in the autumn, though equally took a direct approach to beat Wales two weeks ago. Schmidt merely believes he can rotate his resources to fit the contest.
Devin Toner gets the nod over Iain Henderson at lock for Ireland
The decision to start Leinster lock Devin Toner to shore up Ireland’s lineout is doubtless prosaic from head coach Schmidt. And, again back to terms of style, could well point to Ireland attempting to dominate possession and territory in a bid to keep the attack-minded Scots at bay. Boss the set-piece and keep Scotland penned in their own half, and Ireland can expect to emerge victorious.
Scotland will not blink in their bid to attack from all corners
Finn Russell’s wonder pass that bisected England’s backline as Scotland saw off Eddie Jones’ side in Edinburgh two weeks ago, continues to dazzle all who replay it time and time again. The looping, miss-pass ripped England apart, and has since prompted extended debates around revising risk-reward profiles. Scotland boss Gregor Townsend was exactly the kind of player to favour the rapier over the bludgeon as a playmaker of no little skill. Scotland are clearly built in his image, but must still secure a breakdown platform to allow their backline talents to thrive in Dublin.
Garry Ringrose must hit the ground running on return from injury
Ireland’s problem position of 13 is this week filled by fit-again Leinster star Garry Ringrose. The fleet-footed flyer becomes Ireland’s third outside centre in four matches, with Robbie Henshaw and Chris Farrell both suffering long-term injuries during this Six Nations. With Jared Payne also continuing to suffer headaches since last summer’s British and Irish Lions tour, Ireland’s depth in midfield has been sorely tested. Ringrose has played just an hour of rugby since January, but must now hit top speed straight away.
Blair Kinghorn can expect to be targeted on his full Scotland debut
Ireland remain the European masters of the high ball, and will no doubt single out new Scotland winger Kinghorn to test his mettle under the bomb. Both Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton can drop the ball on a sixpence, so the Edinburgh wing must hold both his discipline and his nerve in Dublin on Saturday.