Scotland out to continue winning ways
February 21, 2013
Greig Laidlaw's kicking will be crucial to Scotland's hopes of beating Ireland at Murrayfield © Getty Images
Scotland will be aiming to show that they can string two impressive performances together when they welcome Ireland to Murrayfield on Sunday.
Head to Head
In recent years Scotland's Achilles' heel has been their inability to back up a good win with a performance of similar quality next time out. Scott Johnson's side sit second in the table behind England after running in four tries in their 34-10 victory against Italy and know a win would leave them on course for their best championship performance since 2006, when they won three matches.
An Ireland victory would take Declan Kidney's team above Scotland, but they have been forced to ring the changes in the wake of a bruising loss to England a fortnight ago. It seems a long time since they blew Wales away in the first 50 minutes of their 30-22 win in Cardiff - and they never came anywhere near repeating that mix of slick attacking play and fierce defence as they lost 12-6 against a more street-wise England side in Dublin.
Scotland - Player to Watch: Greig Laidlaw may not have received the plaudits that some of his team-mates have this year, but his form with the boot will be crucial in what is likely to be a closely-fought contest.
Scotland - Team News: Geoff Cross is the only change to the side that beat Italy with the Edinburgh tight-head replacing Euan Murray, whose Christian beliefs mean he won't play on Sundays. Alistair Kellock will win his 50th cap is he comes off the bench.
Ireland - Player to Watch: All eyes will be on fly-half Paddy Jackson who will make his debut in place of the injured Jonathan Sexton. Coach Declan Kidney preferred the Ulster youngster to veteran Ronan O'Gara and his performance will be crucial to Ireland returning to winning ways.
Ireland - Team News: Luke Marshall is the other Ulster player to make his debut on Sunday and he will line-up alongside Ireland's record cap-holder Brian O'Driscoll in the centres. In a total of five changes, wing Keith Earls, second-row O'Callaghan and prop Tom Court all start with the latter replacing the suspended Cian Healy.
Key Battle: At the start of the season, Ireland's Rob Kearney was most pundits' pick to be first-choice fullback for the Lions in Australia this summer, but Stuart Hogg has burst into the consciousness with two dazzling showings against England and Italy. Whoever comes out on top in what will surely be testing conditions will have taken a huge step towards claiming a place on the flight Down Under.
Trivia: No Scotland back has scored a Six Nations try against Ireland since 2008 when wing Simon Webster got on the score-sheet. Since then Johnnie Beattie and Richie Gray are the only Scotland players to score Six Nations tries against Ireland and both are in the starting line-up.
Stats: Of the four Tests where Wayne Barnes has refereed Ireland, they have won only once; their 17-15 victory against Wales which won them the 2009 Grand Slam..
Betting: With Ronan O'Gara on the bench and Dan Parks now retired, odds on a drop-goal opening the scoring are long, with Bet 365 offering odds of 16-1. Or how about Scotland's Stuart Hogg to add to this try tally? Bet365 will pay 12/1 if the fullback notches the opening try and 3/1 for him to touch down at any time.
"It's like CSI (Crime Scene Investigation). Week one, all we left were fingerprints. "The second week (against Italy) we had eye witnesses to the event, so there was improvement, but, in the third week (Sunday), we still want to be there when the police arrive."
"You don't worry about who isn't available because their time will come. That's the nature of rugby. We have made a conscious decision to just get on with things. The injury count speaks for itself. We will work with what we have."
Prediction: With the weather forecast predicting rain and grey skies expect this to be another dog-fight between the two Celtic rivals. Ireland's more experienced bench gives them the edge though and don't be surprised if O'Gara comes on to close out a narrow Ireland victory.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Italy coach Jacques Brunel spoke to ESPN ahead of his final season as Italy coach and tells of his desire to experiment and evolve
"There's no bull with me, I just tell it straight." Tom Hamilton talks to Warren Gatland in an exclusive interview
With the retirement of Adam Jones, Welsh rugby says goodbye to a great player and one of its biggest personalities too, writes Tom Hamilton
Cards, kicks, slips and scores: It's The Week in Pictures, the finest snaps from the last seven days of rugby