Mouth-watering Edinburgh showdown in store – Scotland v Ireland talking points
There is plenty at stake at BT Murrayfield on Sunday as Scotland host Ireland in the most significant match of the penultimate weekend of the Guinness Six Nations.
Here, the PA news agency looks at some key talking points ahead of the mouth-watering Edinburgh showdown.
All to play for
A year ago this weekend, Scotland were in Rome playing a relatively insignificant match against Italy, with their victory meaning little in the grand scheme of things other than ensuring they would not finish with the wooden spoon. This time they go into their penultimate fixture knowing there are huge rewards potentially awaiting them. If they beat Ireland, they will claim a first Triple Crown since 1990. In addition, a home victory, especially with a bonus point, would take Gregor Townsend’s team into their final match at home to Italy with a real chance of winning the Six Nations title. The Irish are not short of motivation either, however. A win in Edinburgh will leave them on course for the title and a Grand Slam.
Can the Scots halt Irish dominance?
Captain Johnny Sexton this week claimed Ireland are preparing to face the greatest Scotland team of the Six Nations era. Although there is clearly a healthy respect for the hosts, the Irish have dominated this fixture for a decade. Ireland have won 11 of the last 12 clashes, including seven on the bounce, dating back to 2014. From an Irish perspective it would be extremely unfortunate timing for their recent supremacy to end. In an intriguing sub-plot, the sides are set to meet again at the autumn World Cup, with the Paris showdown likely to determine which nation progresses from the pool stage. Ireland thumped Scotland 27-3 during the same stage of the 2019 tournament in Japan.
Irish bring back the big guns
Andy Farrell has selected arguably his strongest side of this year’s Six Nations so far by welcoming back a host of star names from injury. Prop Tadhg Furlong will make his first competitive appearance since early December following a calf issue after deputy Finlay Bealham suffered a tournament-ending knee problem in the round-three win in Italy. Sexton and Garry Ringrose also return having been sidelined in Rome, while Cian Healy, Jamison Gibson-Park and Robbie Henshaw significantly strengthen the bench as they await their first Test involvements since the autumn. Bealham and Tadhg Beirne are the only notable absentees from a fearsome matchday 23.
Hogg hits his century
There will be fanfare aplenty from a Scottish perspective as Stuart Hogg leads the hosts out ahead of winning his 100th cap. The 30-year-old full-back made his debut in 2012 and has gone on to become, in the words of head coach Townsend, one of the best players in the history of Scottish rugby. Townsend also said on Friday that Hogg has been training this week as well as he can recall. It will come as little surprise therefore if the Scottish number 15 marks his landmark occasion by finding a way of influencing the match in his side’s favour.
Record-breaking weekend for Sexton?
Hogg may not be the only player to pass a notable milestone in this weekend’s match as fit-again Irish skipper Sexton also stands a chance of securing some personal glory. The 37-year-old is closing in on becoming the Six Nations’ all-time leading points scorer. He sits just seven championship points shy of Ronan O’Gara’s record total of 557, having leapfrogged former England international Jonny Wilkinson into second spot last month. Sexton insists team achievements top individual accolades but concedes surpassing former international team-mate O’Gara would be a “fantastic” bonus.
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