Scotland have been warned by one of their former players working deep within Irish rugby to expect a backlash from those RBS Six Nations visitors to BT Murrayfield tomorrow.
Few, if any, Scots are better placed to take the pulse of the Irish game than Greig Oliver who, after representing his country of birth three times at scrum-half between 1987 and 1991, moved to the Emerald Isle and is currently an Elite Development Officer with Munster.
Oliver, from Hawick, [pictured inset], is well aware of fall-out stemming from world No. 3 ranked Ireland losing their first match in ten, against Wales, last time out but insists there will be no knee-jerk reaction in tactics.
“There’s certainly been a real inquest ranging from Wayne Barnes’ refereeing to (Irish coach) Joe Schmidt’s tactics.
“The team have been getting flak for being a bit one dimensional but I thought Wales were outstanding with their intensity. The baby isn’t going to be thrown out with the bath water tactics-wise by Joe who is probably the best coach I have seen.”
As well as coaching the last Scotland Under-21 team to beat England (in 2005), Oliver travelled to New Zealand last year assisting his adopted country in an age-group World Cup.
“Joe tracked us in that World Cup and I saw first hand he leaves no stone unturned,” said Oliver.
One clue which might assist Scotland emerged when Oliver spoke of what the Irish inquest involved after Cardiff.
“The big thing was Welsh physicality at the breakdown which managed to cut off quick possession for Conor Murray and Jonny Sexton,” he said.
If Scotland contain that pair with a similar approach based partly on Adam Ashe returning to the back row in place of Rob Harley, then they will be on their way. If not, then Oliver highlights another problem lying in wait in Robbie Henshaw. He is a 21-year-old centre experiencing the Six Nations for the first time.
“I’ve been watching Robbie Henshaw since he was 16 or 17 playing for Athlone,” said Oliver. “I even tried to get him along to Munster (instead of Leinster) using the carrot of his uncle once playing at the Garryowen club in Limerick which I’m attached to.
“We missed out but anyone who plays for the Irish A team – the Wolfhounds – before the under-20s has got to be a bit unique and a real threat.”
Having said all that Oliver shares a common view that Scotland are progressing.
“I agree with Vern Cotter that Scotland are not far away. They are a stroke of luck away from being good. I don’t think Vern Cotter and the coaching staff will want Scotland to stop doing what they are doing. The encouraging thing for Scotland is that they are still troubling teams and if they can reduce individual errors then that will help enormously.”
Oliver is a fan of stand-off Finn Russell. “What I like about Finn is that he tries things. In fact, he reminds me of Gregor Townsend and it took a while for people to realise what he was about.
“As with Gregor Scotland have a stand-off who gets up to the attacking line and with Sam Hidalgo-Clyne coming on as a scrum-half there is a bit of depth developing.”
Mention of Russell recalls one-that-got-away so far as Edinburgh Rugby are concerned and as confirmed by the player himself.
In September, 2013, the Evening News reported: “Edinburgh are set to land Finn Russell, the young Ayr stand-off who is attached to Glasgow Warriors, as they attempt to solve a stand-off crisis .... created by Gregor Hunter’s injury.”
Russell admitted: “About Autumn Test time (in 2013) there was talk about coming through here (Edinburgh) and getting some pro rugby. But with Duncan (Weir) and Jacko (Ruaridh Jackson) going to Scotland for the Autumn Tests I was needed at Glasgow. I ended up not coming.”
Had Russell crossed the Scottish rugby divide then there would have been nine Edinburgh players in the match-day squad on Sunday including Tim Visser who has been recalled to provide greater balance to the bench which was split 6:2 between forwards and backs at Twickenham.
Credit Cotter for quickly abandoning a practice that was always liable to leave the Scots vulnerable and the reason Alasdair Dickinson has swapped places with Ryan Grant who is promoted to the starting line-up reflects the batterings the stalwart Edinburgh prop has taken so far.
Said Cotter: “Ryan was able to train (this week) – Alasdair wasn’t. Ryan is fresh, he’s been coming off the bench. Alasdair has played a lot of rugby.
“But the other thing about Alasdair coming off the bench is we know Ireland have a very powerful group who come on into the game, looking to apply pressure at the scrum.
‘It’s nice to have someone in reserve who has been able to spend the week recovering and who will be fresh to finish the game for us.”
Cotter is putting an emphasis on sustained morale in trying to rally his troops for a final push.
“We lost momentum after the Wales game, through injury and a suspension. I think there are undeniably strong signs of identity and solidarity within the group.
‘That is the most important thing. That and the awareness of needing to improve.
‘The players have shown they’re able to adapt and improve on certain things. That’s a positive.
“I’ve enjoyed working with these guys, they’re a good group of guys, some of them starting their international careers. It’s good to be part of that dynamic.
“They’re hurting at the moment but we would like to see a positive result that would validate some of the hard work that’s gone in. You can only keep pushing away and keep believing, and I think they do.”
Unlike other fixtures on the schedule this is one that should hold fewer fears for the Scots having beaten Ireland three times in the last six meetings, including a World Cup warm up fixture.
What’s more, although Ireland lead a championship that could well come down to points difference the Scots have actually scored more tries – five against four.
The worry is a lack of ability to cross the whitewash in this fixture with 203 minutes having elapsed since Richie Gray crossed in Dublin three years ago.
Down the years the Scots have a habit of marking the big occasion with a positive result and tomorrow marks the 90th anniversary exactly of the opening of Murrayfield when Wales were seen off. A win, therefore, would mean even more than rewarding players and long suffering fans.