Preview: Ireland v Scotland talking points

Jack Dempsey is tackled during Ireland v Scotland match at 2023 Rugby World Cup Ireland have dominated recent meetings with Scotland (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Ireland are within touching distance of retaining the Six Nations title ahead of hosting Scotland.

Andy Farrell’s men were denied potential back-to-back Grand Slams by last weekend’s 23-22 defeat to England but remain in pole position to win the tournament.

Here, we pick out some of the main talking points ahead of Saturday’s match in Dublin.

Ireland’s title to lose

Ireland know victory or a draw will guarantee championship glory, while two losing bonus points would also be sufficient. Any other result would complicate matters and open the door for England to snatch the title. Steve Borthwick’s side, who begin the weekend four points off the pace, require a bonus-point win away to France in the final fixture of ‘Super Saturday’ on the back of halting Ireland’s 100 per cent record. Scotland and Les Bleus are also mathematically still in the title mix. However, their respective hopes of finishing top of the table are highly improbable due to Ireland’s vastly-superior points difference.

What might have been

The Aviva Stadium clash should arguably be a straight shoot-out for the title and could easily have been a Grand Slam showdown. Ireland were seconds away from remaining on track for a clean sweep before Marcus Smith’s last-gasp drop goal settled a Twickenham thriller. Scotland, meanwhile, are likely to still feel aggrieved about their controversial round-two loss to France, which was sandwiched between wins over Wales and England. The Scots’ campaign subsequently unravelled in disastrous fashion with a shock 31-29 defeat to Italy. Clinching a first Triple Crown since the 1990 Five Nations appears to be the only realistic achievement available to Gregor Townsend’s men amid a lingering sense of what might have been.

Testing times for Townsend

A major setback at Stadio Olimpico cast fresh doubt on the future of Scotland head coach Townsend. His side have produced plenty of statement results, including four consecutive Calcutta Cup victories. But he has also overseen successive World Cup pool-stage exits, while frustrating inconsistency means the Scots’ wait for a maiden Six Nations title goes on. The 50-year-old, whose contract runs until 2026, refused to entertain questions about his position after a calamitous second-half collapse in the Italian capital. Townsend insists he still believes in his players and will be desperate to end the championship by lifting silverware to alleviate mounting pressure.

Decade of dominance

Ireland have played pivotal roles in Scotland’s recent underwhelming World Cup campaigns during a decade of dominance of this fixture. At the 2019 tournament in Japan, the Irish began with a 27-3 win over Townsend’s men in Yokohama, before emphatically eliminating their rivals in France last year thanks to a crushing 36-14 Paris success. Ireland have won 13 of 14 meetings between the nations since 2014, including nine on the spin following a 27-22 Murrayfield loss in 2017. They are strong favourites to extend that streak as Scotland bid to become only the second away side – after France in 2021 – to triumph in Dublin during the Farrell era.

Concussion concerns

Ireland’s unchanged starting XV raised some eyebrows given Calvin Nash was forced off following a thunderous collision with England’s Tommy Freeman just six days ago. Concussion protocols remain a hot topic but Farrell insisted he trusts the medical experts as he moved to allay any concerns surrounding the Munster wing. The Englishman has also ditched his six-two split of forwards and backs on the bench in favour of a more conventional five-three selection. The bold call backfired in London due to head injury assessments dictating the withdrawals of Nash and his replacement Ciaran Frawley, who is not fit to feature this weekend.

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