Scotland rugby captain Kelly Brown has pinpointed a trio of Irishmen that have to be contained in Dublin tomorrow if his team are to make a winning start to their Six Nations campaign for the first time since 2006.
The Scots have won three of their last five matches against Ireland, but they go in as underdogs for this weekend’s match at the Aviva Stadium.
Brown, the Saracens No.8, is particularly wary of his Irish counterpart, Jamie Heaslip, Ireland captain Paul O’Connell and Brian O’Driscoll, the talismanic former captain embarking on his last campaign.
“Any side with Paul O’Connell, Jamie Heaslip and Brian O’Driscoll is going to be very strong,” said Brown. “It is going to be a battle out there.
“In their last game Ireland should have beaten the All Blacks and that’s a measure of what we are up against. In saying that we have beaten Ireland in three of our last five meetings with them so we take a lot of confidence from that.”
That 22-24 Ireland loss to New Zealand in the closing play deep into injury time has figured in Scotland’s build-up and Brown is full of respect for how close they came to being the only team to beat the reigning world champions in 2013.
“I was actually flying home from Murrayfield at the time and when I landed I caught the final five or ten minutes. You want to see the home nations doing well but only when you are not playing against them.
“Unfortunately they couldn’t quite hold on at the end for a win but I don’t think it will affect them this weekend. They will probably draw on their experiences that day in fact.”
Last year, Ireland opened with a 30-22 win over Wales in Cardiff despite being pegged back from 30-3 ahead just after half-time.
“It really is a funny old tournament and if one or two results go against you then suddenly the pressure becomes more difficult to deal with,” he said. “It is important we get a good start and fortunately there is increasing depth to our squad.”
One of those who has added an extra dimension is Brown’s Saracens club-mate, Duncan Taylor, who will be making a Six Nations debut on his seventh cap appearance.
Taylor forms a centre pairing with Alex Dunbar, who also broke through on the summer tour to South Africa, and Brown says: “Duncan has been playing very, very well at Saracens and came in when (England cap) Brad Barritt was injured.
“At 12 (inside centre) he has shown really good skills and reads the game well. He’s big and fast; he’s got it all, in fact.”
Taylor, a former Davidson’s Mains youngster whose family moved south early in his life, will also be kept on his toes by the presence on the bench of Matt Scott. Sidelined since November by, first, a hand injury then a strained hamstring, Scott remains a likely impact player tomorrow.
Meanwhile, Duncan Weir, who has been given the opportunity to stake a claim to the stand-off spot, believes several of the side can benefit from taking European kingpins Toulon to the wire for Glasgow in a recent tie. Weir felt the Toulon side were so star-studded that it was akin to playing an extra international in terms of getting up to speed. “Toulon were a fantastic outfit – you can’t win the Heineken Cup with a weak side. We were pretty unlucky not to come away with a wee bit more and now we have to up it again.”
Interim Scotland coach Scott Johnson has been stressing how Weir has added pace to his game and the player himself makes no secret of wanting to attack with ball in hand.
“My first couple of years after turning pro were going to be about shedding puppy fat, getting used to the lifestyle and diet of a pro athlete,” he said.
“We’ve got sprint coaches in place both at Scotland and Glasgow and going several sessions a week are paying off.
“It will be about us containing them in defence and also going out there and moving ball about to play in the wide spaces.”
An ability to tie teams down with accurate kicks from Weir will also be vital. If Ireland are unable to throw off the shackles then the Scottish hope is that any frustration from the home crowd gets through to the team.
Weir is not the only Scot with the chance to stake permanent claim and the need for tight head prop Moray Low to rise to the occasion after six successive caps from off the bench is paramount. During that period Low has had to vie with Euan Murray and Geoff Cross but the feeling exists that, with Ireland set to target Scotland’s scrum and ability to defend driving mauls, Low is a key individual. “I’m feeling confident and happy with my recent performances for Glasgow and in the Autumn Tests,” says Low, who is likely to line up in opposition to Cian Healy, who is developing into one of the world’s best.