Saturday 23 March 2019

Big 3 threat

CENTRE STAGE: Garry Ringrose in action for Ireland against Scotland’s Huw Jones during last year’s Six Nations clash at Murrayfield. Pic: Sportsfile
CENTRE STAGE: Garry Ringrose in action for Ireland against Scotland’s Huw Jones during last year’s Six Nations clash at Murrayfield. Pic: Sportsfile

The greatest danger to Ireland's fourth straight win in the Six Nations comes from the triple threat of Finn Russell, Huw Jones and Stuart Hogg.

It is no secret that Andy Farrell's defence has been most vulnerable when the ball is moved to the edges.

In Russell, they have an out-half who can put the ball there.

In Jones, they have an outside centre endowed with power, pace and timing onto the ball.

In Hogg, they have a full-back, when given an inch, capable of scorching any defence with his evasion and elite speed.

Ireland know all about how Scotland have turned Murrayfield into a hard place to do the business.

Centre Jones measured the next step forward in their progress.

"If we are to be up there with the best, we have to start winning away.

"The next game will be a massive test, that's what we're thinking about.

"I think we will have to take it up another level against Ireland," he said.

"If Ireland play their best game it'll be tougher than the England game.

"They'll have the home crowd and that sort of lift we had from our supporters."

In Edinburgh, Scotland have shown they are not the same rabble that folded in Wales.

"I think we have those away wins in us," he said.

"It's about the preparation, the mindset going into the game that we didn't have against Wales.

"But I think we've learned a bit now and are maybe better prepared going into the Ireland match."

Finn Russell

For all of the out-half's mercurial talents, there is a strain of extreme inconsistency that has always stymied his brilliance.

It was what had him placed fourth in behind Johnny Sexton, Owen Farrell and Dan Biggar to keep him off The Lions flight to New Zealand.

One moment brilliant, the next brittle, the Glasgow Warrior can turn a game with one flick of his wrists.

The pass of a lifetime that put Jones on the front-foot and, eventually, Sean Maitland into the left corner for Scotland's first try against England lit the touch-paper.

Gregor Townsend's decision to give the place-kicking to Greig Laidlaw and line-kicking to Stuart Hogg would free Russell up to concentrate on shredding Ireland's defence.

Huw Jones

The 24-year-old, educated at Millfield, the same school as Rhys Ruddock, has been the arrow Scotland have been looking for at outside centre.

He has struck for ten tries in 14 caps in what was been an explosive beginning to his international career.

The aggressive nature of his game is augmented by his 102 kilos (16 stones) frame.

These physical advantages will place a high degree of stress on Garry Ringrose's game intelligence and, more critically, lack of game time.

Stuart Hogg

The Six Nations Player of the Championship for the last two years has made a habit out of sticking it to the Irish provinces and to Ireland in this competition.

Just last season, the full-back notched up a double against the Irish from his three in five matches.

He also provided try-assists for three more, meaning he was involved in 43% of Scotland's 13 tries.

The 25-year-old will exploit any disconnect in Ireland's defence and will target the inexperience of Jacob Stockdale.

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