Irish supporters have endured a tumultuous twelve months. A year ago, it was acceptable to entertain the idea that they might be the best side in world rugby. A year on, while they are officially ranked number one in the world, expectations for the team seem to be at a low ebb.
The reason for this of course has been their dreadful 6 Nations campaign, followed by a hammering at the hands of England in a warm up game at Twickenham. The feeling was that the game plan which had worked so well in 2018 had become stale. Fresh thinking was required, and it was unclear whether Schmidt was either able or willing to change his approach.
Two recent victories against Wales helped to ease some tension before the team flew off to Japan, but questions still remain about the form of captain Rory Best and the team’s ability to add dynamism to an attack which in the last six months has looked predictable.
Scotland, on the other hand are a team that could hardly be described as predictable. Since Gregor Townsend took over as head coach in 2017, they have been transformed into an attacking, dynamic side capable of the sublime but also of the ridiculous (a 30-29 defeat to USA in 2018).
This makes Scotland a dangerous proposition. Particularly so, for an Irish side that don’t like playing from behind and who rarely rack up a big score themselves.
Defeat for the Irish here wouldn’t be a complete disaster, with a tough draw expected in the Quarters regardless of whether they win the pool or not. But it would be an ominous sign of things to come and it would heap pressure onto an already tricky fixture against Japan next weekend.
Both sides are reasonably healthy for this encounter. Robbie Henshaw is expected to be fit for next weekend, while Aki and Ringrose should be more than competent in midfield. Conway and Larmour are adequate replacements for Kearney and Earls who both sit out, so Ireland are likely to be operating at close to full strength. Carberry isn’t available for selection yet so Jack Carty is Sexton’s replacement should that eventuality occur.
This is a difficult opener for Ireland, but they are unquestionably the better side, and the noises from the camp have been much more positive in the last couple of weeks. Schmidt’s defence should be able to contain the Scottish attack as they did in this years 6 Nation’s meeting, albiet allowing for the capabilities of Finn Russell. In attack, Sexton and Murray should be able to control things from the half back positions and in Jacob Stockdale, Ireland have a world class finisher on the wing. Take Ireland to do enough here and grind out a hard fought victory.
Ireland by 1-12 points – 7/5 (Toals Bookmakers)