Monday 18 December 2017

Scots ready for Ireland's drive for top

Ireland are caught between the two stools that are Wales and England as they plot a course to retain their Six Nations on what is guaranteed to be a dramatic final day of the championship tomorrow.

The mathematics on the way there are straight forward.

England are in pole position, holding onto a slim points-difference advantage of +37 over Ireland's +33 and back to Wales on +12.

The Welsh have to put a big score on Italy to have a chance. Ireland have to do likewise to Scotland to stay ahead of them and move in front of England.

And then there is France. The great unfathomable could just have a surprise or two up the blue sleeve for Stuart Lancaster.

Then again, they could just as easily fold like a joker poker player for what is going to be a ferociously committed England.

It is a sad to see Simon Zebo (below) pay the price for Wales defeat, dropping out of the squad completely, and a joyous one to embrace the return of the gifted one - Luke Fitzgerald.

The left wing comes in for his strict adherence to Joe Schmidt's dedication to basics on top of his rapier running game.

It is about time Cian Healy was let off the leash from honing his match sharpness in the most unforgiving environment of international rugby with the laudable Jack McGrath in reserve.

Scotland coach Vern Cotter is not too far away from getting what he wants from a set of players closer to their target in attack than they are in defence.

"We've played with a huge amount of spirit and courage, are putting teams under pressure and are scoring tries, which is encouraging.

"But, we want to go one better against Ireland, last year's champions," said Cotter.

"Make no mistake, they are coming to Edinburgh believing they can win the title, while we will be going out there desperate to throw everything at our last Championship match to win the game and repay the support of our fans," said Cotter.

Like Ireland, the Scots have made two changes with loose-head Ryan Grant making his first start of the campaign and Adam Ashe getting in ahead of Rob Harley in the back row.

Scotland: S Hogg; D Fife, M Bennett, M Scott, T Seymour; F Russell, G

Laidlaw (capt); R Grant, R Ford, E Murray, J Hamilton, J Gray, A Ashe,

B Cowan, D Denton.

Ireland: R Kearney; T Bowe, J Payne, R Henshaw, L Fitzgerald; J

Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best, M Ross, D Toner, P O'Connell

(capt), P O'Mahony, S O'Brien, J Heaslip.

Verdict: Ireland

scotland v ireland, tomorrow live rte2/bbc1, (ko 2.30)

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