Ireland to test Scotland's resolve
February 24, 2011
Sean Lamont has been tasked with reviving Scotland's fortunes © Getty Images
Declan Kidney's misfiring Ireland are the next visitors to Murrayfield on Sunday, where Andy Robinson's demoralised Scotland will be looking for a shot in the arm following a meek surrender to Wales last time out.
Ireland's loss to France in Dublin left them with similar feelings to their Scottish counterparts following their opening round loss in Paris. There were positives aplenty for Brian O'Driscoll's men and a feeling of more to come, but they must now avoid the fate that befell their hosts if they are to maintain any momentum prior to the Rugby World Cup.
Defeat to Wales saw Scotland regress as an attacking force and also highlighted a palpable dip in intensity - something that they showed in abundance when upsetting Ireland in the final game of last season's tournament at Croke Park. Robinson needs his charges to shape up fast, as momentum is hard earned.
Scotland - Player to Watch: Sean Lamont was a lone beacon for Scotland against Wales and the Scarlets back has been rewarded with a start this weekend, although he will wear the unfamiliar No.12 jersey. He has turned out for his region in midfield before and played one Test at 13, but while he will not lack for grunt this will be a test of his defence and distribution.
Scotland - Team News: Dan Parks has paid the price for a couple of below-par showings, with Glasgow's Ruaridh Jackson handed a first Test start at fly-half. Injury to Hugo Southwell has paved the way for Chris Paterson to return and win his 102nd cap at fullback, where he will also likely assume the kicking duties from the untested Jackson. Lamont's midfield switch sees Nick De Luca move to outside-centre while there are boosts in the pack as Richie Gray and Johnnie Beattie return.
Ireland - Player to Watch: Ronan O'Gara's cameos against Italy and France have earned him a recall to the starting line-up at the expense of Leinster's Jonny Sexton. Whether the Munster man inspires a return to the percentage rugby seen during Ireland's Grand Slam remains to be seen, but Kidney is unlikely to abandon his attacking intent. O'Gara will likely need to get Ireland moving out wide as well as keeping them ticking over.
Ireland - Team News: O'Gara's switch aside, there is a major boost as Tommy Bowe has been passed fit to return on the wing in place of Fergus McFadden. Eoin Reddan starts at scrum-half following a back injury to Tomas O'Leary.
Key Battle: With the 'Killer Bs' back in harness as their back-row Scotland will want quick ball and plenty of it to test Jackson's playmaking skills, but the contest on the floor will be fierce as the hugely impressive Sean O'Brien teams up with David Wallace and Jamie Heaslip once again.
Trivia: Ireland have not lost a Six Nations match at Murrayfield since 2001 but went winless in Edinburgh for 16 years between 1987 and 2003.
Stats: O'Gara's 114 points from 12 matches against Scotland make him Ireland's leading scorer against their Celtic rivals.
"We've all had an honesty session. That's something that's important to me, that we express how we feel and if anyone has an issue it needs to be voiced." - Scotland coach Andy Robinson explains the team's reaction to their loss to Wales.
"Jonathan was a very good player before we ever met him and he's improved no end, but I wanted to give this game to Ronan. Ronan's had a fruitful career to date and there's a lot left in him. I hope he brings himself out there." - Ireland coach Declan Kidney explains the selection of O'Gara.
The Odds: Lamont has been in strong form for Scotland, if you fancy the centre to score the first try Bet365 have odds of 16/1.
Fantasy: Bowe has been missing for the opening rounds of action but could come to the party this weekend, is he in your ESPNscrum International Fantasy Rugby 2011 team?
Prediction: Scotland will doubtless improve after some harsh words since their last outing, but Ireland are only a couple of dropped passes away from a big win. It's not going to get much brighter for the home side this weekend.
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