Scotland wary of Ringrose pace, Henshaw power and Sexton loops

RELATIONS BETWEEN IRISH and Scottish rugby players have been a little fiery in recent times.

Munster and Glasgow squared up to each other on a number of occasions in their recent Champions Cup tie, after which Conor Murray complained that the Warriors had attempted to deliberately injure him.

There was the Keith Earls vs. Fraser Brown spat too, when the Ireland wing apologised to the Glasgow hooker over then phone, then seemed to row back publicly, before making it clear he did want to apologise.

Ireland and Scotland clashed last year in Dublin. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Have a look back at last year’s Six Nations game in Dublin for further evidence – there were shoving matches after tries, grappling contests over the touchlines, and Scottish anger at perceived play-acting by Johnny Sexton.

It could be interesting in Murrayfield on Saturday in more ways than one.

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“A very physical game,” says Scotland centre Alex Dunbar, a Glasgow player, when asked what they’re expecting from Ireland.

“We have played Munster a few times already. We know they will have a physical edge. For us, we have to be switched on and start the game well.

“It was a couple of gruelling games we played against Munster. We are going to have to go even higher than that. [Ireland] have a lot of great players who are playing well. We have to impose ourselves on them.”

Nothing quite warms Six Nations supporters like a bit of what the great Bill McLaren used to call ‘argy-bargy,’ and the Edinburgh crowd may well have their appetite sated this weekend.

Of course, there will be much more to this contest than the confrontation and aggression, particularly with some fresh-looking midfield combinations ready to be unleashed.

With the influential Jared Payne absent for Ireland, Garry Ringrose is in pole position to start outside Robbie Henshaw and Johnny Sexton – if the out-half is indeed fit.

‘They’ve got some very good direct runners in Henshaw and Ringrose,” says Scotland backs coach Jason O’Halloran of the Ireland midfield. “I think Ringrose, in particular, has really good pace.

Ireland’s midfield could be a key strength. Source: Colm O’Neill/INPHO

‘They use loop plays with Jonny Sexton a lot, and the fact that they can be so physical and tie down the midfield allows him scope for that.

‘That’s something they’ve always done really well and it will continue to be a theme as long as Joe [Schmidt] is their coach.”

Ringrose has yet to play outside Henshaw at Test level, although their partnership for Leinster has been highly promising this season.

Scotland may have their own fresh midfield face in the shape of 23-year-old Huw Jones, who was an impressive performer in their November Test series.

Having initially moved to South Africa on a gap year, Jones ended up playing Currie Cup rugby for Western Province in 2014. Two Super Rugby campaigns with the Stormers later, Jones was called into Scotland’s squad for last summer’s Japan tour and made his debut there.

He started twice in November, scoring a try against Argentina and a brace in the narrow defeat to Australia. The issue is that Jones has not played any club rugby since, with South Africa in their off-season.

“Huw is ready to play,” says O’Halloran, however.  ”Huw has brought us pace, great footwork, and he can distribute either way, which is uncommon for a guy who has played in the midfield in South Africa. Normally they are straight up-and-down sort of guys who lack ball skills.

“But he can do all that, he can grubber kick. He’s got one of the most rounded skill sets I’ve seen. Obviously what we’ve seen so far is the feet and the speed, but he can distribute the ball really well.

Jones was a star of the November Tests for Scotland. Source: Jane Barlow

“As well as being a really good athlete, he also brings that excitement of a new guy into the environment, visibly enjoying every minute of it. He enjoys the guys he’s around, so that’s helpful.”

The midfield is just one area where this fixture brings intrigue in terms of positional battles, as Ireland look to open the Six Nations with a win away from home.

The last time Joe Schmidt’s side were in Murrayfield, they left with a 40-10 victory and the 2015 Six Nations title.

Vern Cotter’s men have made some strides since then, however, and they are confident Saturday will be a very different encounter.

“Both teams have changed,” says Dunbar. “We have developed as a whole squad. Now we go into every game a lot more competitive than we did in games gone by.”

Source: The42 Rugby Show/SoundCloud

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