herald

Monday 18 December 2017

momentum will matter more than triple crown

Ireland v Scotland

Croke Park, tomorrow KO 5.0 (rté2/bbc1)

It is the very dedication of these players to becoming the best in the world that tarnishes the Triple Crown. Winners don't celebrate second place. And these are winners.

OK, the back-to-back triumphs over England and Wales have imbued the Irish squad with positivity reborn. They are back to what they were doing for 18 months before Paris. The devaluation of the Triple Crown would be properly gauged by the reaction of the players if this game came as the one after Paris. There is little doubt that the Irish would struggle to beat the drum.

The real importance of the last match in the Six Nations is down to Ireland establishing another winning streak. This would make it three on the trot before far more serious examinations in New Zealand and Australia in June.

Therefore, coach Declan Kidney refused to play musical chairs with his selection, going for the same team with a doubt persisting over Gordon D'Arcy's capacity to mend from a bone-bruising injury.

The retention of Jonathan Sexton at out-half ahead of Ronan O'Gara is confirmation that the Leinster man has moved in front in this two-horse race. Munster's Keith Earls and Ospreys Tommy Bowe are in exceptional form and in need of heavy involvement in attack, given the solid defensive wall put up by Scotland in the championship thus far.

The battle of the backrows is the most exciting prospect, with Ireland's Stephen Ferris, David Wallace and Jamie Heaslip sure to feel the heat from Kelly Brown, John Barclay and Johnnie Beattie.

Scotland coach Andy Robinson has shown his loyalty to a group of players that have threatened a real breakthrough without ever crossing the finish line in front. They have been inches away from victory away to Italy and Wales and at home to England. A win would do wonders for their confidence. It's highly unlikely tomorrow.

Verdict: Ireland

Ireland: G Murphy; T Bowe, B O'Driscoll (capt), G D'Arcy, K Earls; J Sexton, T O'Leary; C Healy, R Best, J Hayes, D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell, S Ferris, D Wallace, J Heaslip.

Scotland: H Southwell; S Lamont, N de Luca, G Morrison, M Evans; D Parks, C Cusiter (capt); A Jacobsen, R Ford, E Murray, J Hamilton, A Kellock, K Brown, J Barclay, J Beattie.

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