Why Scotland will provide a stiffer test to Ireland than ailing Italy

As good as Ireland’s performance was in throwing off the shackles to score a Six Nations record nine tries against Italy last Saturday, a confident Scotland side, who visit Dublin on Saturday, will pose more searching questions. Here’s why.
Why Scotland will provide a stiffer test to Ireland than ailing Italy

Set-piece

Italy’s lineout has been close to shambolic for the past two seasons and their threat at the scrum has been diminished of late, although there were few opportunities to put that theory to the test against Ireland in a game of just 11 scrums.

Scotland’s scrummaging, however, is improving, with Joe Schmidt highlighting William Nel’s introduction at tighthead.

Edinburgh’s Nel has made Scotland’s scrum more solid while there is plenty of grunt behind the front row.

The lineout can definitely be a weapon with second-row brothers Jonny and Richie Gray dangerous threats on opposition ball and providing an excellent platform in attack. Jonny Gray is a doubt having suffered a pectoral strain against France.

Coaching nous

Nobody knows Scotland coach Vern Cotter better than Joe Schmidt, who served as his fellow Kiwi’s backs coach back home at Bay Of Plenty and during their successful spell at the helm of Clermont Auvergne.

And Schmidt will be only too aware than in Cotter he is up against a much cannier adversary than Italy’s soon-to-retire Jacques Brunel.

The former Perpignan boss is the archetypal dead man walking, a point rammed home when we saw his expected successor, Conor O’Shea, watching from the RTÉ studio on Saturday.

Momentum

While Italy limped into Dublin nursing injuries in double figures and on the back of three straight defeats, the Scots have progressed steadily throughout the championship, improving from a poor opening defeat at home to England.

Despite a second successive loss in round two, they played better in Cardiff.

Scotland then beat Italy in Rome to break a nine-game run of Six Nations defeats. Sunday’s 29-18 defeat of France at Murrayfield was their best performance yet and it gave Scotland their first back-to-back wins in the Six Nations since victories over Italy and Ireland midway through 2013.

More than that, though, beating France for the first time in a decade has sent confidence soaring and Cotter’s side will arrive in Dublin with their tails up.

Attacking threat

Ireland managed to nullify Italy’s key strike runners Michele Campagnaro and Leonardo Sarto by putting the squeeze on inexperienced half-backs Palazzini and Padovani.

Scotland have a dynamic back row, a livewire if sometimes erratic fly-half in Finn Russell, and outside backs with pace and power, all with the potential to ask Ireland some serious questions.

Schmidt recalled Scotland’s most recent visit to Dublin in 2014 when wing Tim Visser, now with Harlequins, “caused havoc”.

Tommy Seymour has emerged as a similar threat on the right wing and full-back Stuart Hogg has speed to burn, giving the Scots real counter-attacking potency.

Living high on the Hogg

Scotland may not be the one-man band that Italy are with their over-reliance on the waning powers of captain Sergio Parisse, but it is difficult to imagine them being anywhere near as potent without the presence of Hogg at full-back.

The baby of the 2013 Lions tour to Australia, still only 23, is a genuine danger.

Aside from his pace, Hogg shows good decision-making and footballing instincts, having a hand in two of Scotland’s tries against Italy, one with a delightful back of the hand pass to Seymour.

Against France he scored his side’s first try, stepping Gael Fickou, and then used great creativity to rise and flick a long Greig Laidlaw pass over his head for Visser to score in the corner.

A full-back duel between Hogg and Simon Zebo should be worth the admission alone at the Aviva this Saturday.

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