They may be odds-on favourites to round off the Six Nations Championship with at least a Triple Crown to show for their efforts, but history has taught Ireland captain Jonathan Sexton not to underestimate the challenge of Scotland.
At the end of the Leinster fly-half’s first Six Nations campaign in 2010, Ireland - who were Grand Slam winners just 12 months earlier - needed a win over the Scots at Croke Park to claim their fifth Crown success in the space of seven years.
It didn’t go according to plan, however, as future Connacht place-kicker Dan Parks inspired the visitors to a surprise 23-20 victory at GAA HQ. The current Scottish group have pulled off some notable away wins since Gregor Townsend took over as head coach in 2017 and Sexton isn’t taking their latest visit to the Aviva Stadium on Saturday for granted.
“We definitely won’t be underestimating them. We know some of the big results that they’ve had over the last couple of years are away from home. They hadn’t a good record away from home and then in the last couple of years they’ve beaten France, they’ve beaten England. Wales as well. They’ve had some big scalps away from home. They’re a team to be reckoned with,” Sexton said.
“I know they’ve no championship to play for, but that’s when they can be the most dangerous. Because they’ve got nothing to lose. We’re preparing for their best performance and they’ve got some outstanding individuals.”
While the fact that Ireland have won four Six Nations Championships and two Grand Slams within the past 12 years means the Triple Crown isn’t as prestigious as it once was in the eyes of Irish supporters.
Yet regardless of how Saturday’s game against the Scots pans out, Sexton is adamant that Ireland will continue to push forward.
“Once we had lost that game to France, we set our targets on this. It’s the only thing within our control. If we can get a win and we can do that, then we’re guaranteed a Triple Crown. All our focus is on our performance, but it’s to know that if we do get it right and we get a win, that we’ve got a chance to lift some silverware in front of all those people.
“We’re confident in what we’re doing and where we’re going. Will silverware make that any better or worse? It might validate it a little bit, but I still think we’re on the right path. We’re not really thinking like that. We’re thinking it’s a great opportunity and we need to keep building. That’s the most important thing.”
Despite winning by 17 points in the end (32-15), Ireland required a final-quarter surge to eventually overcome 14-man England at Twickenham Stadium last weekend.
Sexton acknowledged it was a far from a perfect team performance, but was pleased how they were able to problem solve on the pitch and ultimately see the tie out.
“We’ve taken a lot out of the game. I think we got a lot of things right. We were sloppy in some areas, which we’ve looked at. You learn a lot in showing what we showed, which is a lot of character to stay in the fight and stay in the moment.
“Make sure we were able to bounce back from a lot of setbacks and a lot of things that weren’t going our way, and still be able to recover. We learnt a lot, that if we can get out of that situation, it will stand to us in the future as well."