Thursday 22 March 2018

Ireland still in driving seat as O’Mahony steps in

IT IS the way of this world, as one man falls another takes his place. Sean O’Brien’s foot infection has opened the door for Munster’s Peter O’Mahony to win his third Ireland cap, his first one from the start.

Like O’Brien before him, O’Mahony is a no-nonsense loose forward who relishes the physical contact and has experience in all three positions of the back row.

While the Scots have made incremental improvements through the first three rounds of the Six Nations, they have not been able to secure a vital win against England (13-6), Wales (27-13) or France (23-17).

This is not to say they won’t bring |the right mentality or the right players to get the job done if Ireland do not rise to the challenge of playing without Paul O’Connell.

The Limerick man is quite simply the hardest worker in international rugby. He is the ‘duracell battery’ of Irish rugby, a standard-setter who is already the equal of Martin Johnson |as an all-time great of the game.

Coach Declan Kidney has been forced to look to the remarkably consistent Rory Best to captain Ireland and Donnacha Ryan to lead the lineout.

This is a gamble that had to be |taken because Kidney had not planned for the possible exclusion of O’Connell by starting Ryan in the Six Nations, even though he brought superior form into the competition than Donncha O’Callaghan.

Thus, Kidney is asking a player to do an important job that he cannot be sure he is up to in such a high pressure situation. He will find out quickly enough against a superb Scottish defensive lineout, led by Richie Gray.

The promotion of Eoin Reddan has

also been forced on Kidney. Ireland will gain in the speed of ball to Jonathan Sexton what they will lose from the physical presence of Murray at the base.

It will be interesting to see what, if any, influence this will have on the potency of Ireland’s attack where Tommy Bowe is chasing his sixth try of the championship.

Ireland will also surely employ the rush defence that upset France, especially in the first-half. Scotland bring a big man in Graeme Morrison and it is vital Gordon D’Arcy arrives quickly so that he doesn’t have time to get into top gear.

This is why Aurelien Rougerie had no impact in Paris. He was not expecting Keith Earls and those around him to close down space as quickly as they did.

Give a big man time to run and he will run through you.

But, Scotland are not France. They will probably move the ball fast and wide where openside Ross Rennie is a superb link and come back to inside for Gray, Jim Hamilton and Dave Denton to threaten on the ball.

Verdict: Ireland.

Ireland: R Kearney; T Bowe, K Earls, G D’Arcy, A Trimble; J Sexton, E Reddan; C Healy, R Best (capt), M Ross, D O’Callaghan, D Ryan, S Ferris, P O’Mahony, J Heaslip.

Scotland: S Hogg; L Jones, N de Luca, G Morrison, S Lamont; G Laidlaw, M Blair, A Jacobsen, R Ford (capt), G Cross, R Gray, J Hamilton, J Barclay, R Rennie, D Denton.

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