RWC2011: Scotland v Ireland Preview

5 08 2011
Photo by Conor Lawless on Flickr

Pressure

In the first game of what are being called the “EMC Tests” Scotland host Ireland at Murrayfield this Saturday. We look ahead to the weekends game and each team’s preparations so far…

Scotland
Andy Robinson’s side are using just two warm-up games at home before heading down to New Zealand for the World Cup. This is in stark contrast to Ireland’s preparations, 5 games in total, 4 Tests and and a provincial game facing Connacht on August 18th.  The Scots lack of game time they have opted for in preparation is very surprising, Even more surprising when you consider the SRU withdrew Alastair Kellock, Richie Gray, John Barclay, Ross Ford and Allan Jacobsen from club rugby back at the end of March in order to rest-up for the World Cup. These 4 players will not have played a competitive game in over 4 months! The Scots have been in camp for over a month now and I would expect their fitness levels to be top notch, could be a tough physical encounter for Ireland. The news this week that fullback Hugo Southwell will miss the World Cup with a knee injury, is a big blow for the Scots.
Scotland will face Italy in Murrayfield on 20th August, their following game is in Pool B of the World Cup against Romania on September 10th.

Ireland
Declan Kidney indicated earlier this week that he will use a the entire squad over the course of the tests, “I don’t think I’ll be playing anyone in all four games. I mightn’t be playing too many in three games.” Currently there are 43 players in camp, the squad will be cut to 30 in the week of the England game, this gives everyone a good opportunity in making the final squad. One setback this week, word that Gordon D’Arcy is ruled out for the warm-up games as he has not recovered from the knee surgery he underwent in June. This is good news for Fergus McFadden who now looks more likely to claim the 12 jersey alongside Brian O’Driscoll come the World Cup. Kidney has indicated that every player should have a 7 week pre-season before a warm-up game, this may rule many Munster and Leinster players out of Saturdays game.

What to expect:
First game of the season, expect plenty of rustiness and handling errors from both sides. The Scottish should be fighting fit after their marathon pre-season! So the game will be played at quite a fast pace. Both sides will want a full test of all set-pieces, but won’t be firing 100% in the scrum. Since neither side will be naming their first XV expect the fringe players to give their all in order to squeeze their way into the match day squads for September. Very surprised that the Northern Hemisphere teams have not opted to use Southern Hemisphere referees in their warm-up games as there is a significant difference in rule interpretations between the two sides of the world. Seems the home unions may have missed a trick here.

All eyes on:
Since Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy are both out for Saturdays game, there will be massive focus on the Irish midfield. The Paddy Wallace / Fergus McFadden combination has a chance to show how well it could work together, although both will be eyeing up the one available slot alongside O’Driscoll, which could lend an interesting dynamic to the partnership.

So far Ross Rennie has won all of his caps for Scotland off of the bench. He will certainly use this as an opportunity to claim his ticket to New Zealand. There is much competition in the Scotland squad for places in the back row, and Rennie missing out on the 2007 World Cup allowed John Barclay to come in and form that lethal “Killer B” combination. Knowing this, Rennie will be hunting down every opportunity to impact positively on the game.

Last Fixture: Scotland 18-21 Ireland (Murrayfield) 6N Feb 27, 2011

Weather:
Overcast, chance of showers, mild, little or no wind.

Prediction:
In what will be quite an experimental game I have a gut feeling that Scotland may produce a surprise, Ireland are notoriously slow to get out of the blocks both early in the game and season. Scotland by 3.

Article originally written for therugbyblog.co.uk

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