Scotland v Ireland: Back Stockdale to inspire visitors to comfortable victory

Ireland's Jacob Stockdale (right)
Kieran is backing Jacob Stockdale (right) to score the opening try against Scotland
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Our Irish rugby correspondent Kieran O'Connor didn't enjoy his team's performance against England last week but believes they will have more than enough to overcome a 'toothless' Scotland outfit...

"If Ireland are serious about the Championship they will need to score bonus points against all their remaining opponents and hope Wales beat England in Cardiff in Round 3."

Scotland v Ireland
Saturday, 14:15
Live on BBC1

Ireland need to bounce back

After a surprising and worryingly below par performance against England, Ireland must bounce back on Saturday at Murrayfield - and they really should.

Where to start on Joe Schmidt's men? It was a very poor showing, with some of the stats from the game particularly instructive. Dominant tackles (those that brought the player back over the gain line)? Ireland eight, England 48. Ireland only had three entries into the English 22 in the entire game, with no takeaways across the 80 minutes.

Whichever way you paint it, it was a bad day at the office. Was it just a one-off though or something Irish fans need to worry about?

It's worth pointing out how good England were, driven by the need to avenge the last two meetings. In 2017, Ireland stopped the English winning the Grand Slam, while in 2018 they won the Grand Slam easily away at Twickenham, never nice for a home side. Eddie Jones wanted revenge, England wanted revenge. They got it.

Kicking game fell apart

I wrote last week about the physicality of English side and how they would try and bully Ireland. But I must admit, I did not see them being quite so successful at it. Ireland were unable to live with England at the breakdown. The visitors did not let them get over the gain line, and Ireland were constantly pinned into their own half.

How physical were England? Mako Vunipola and Mark Wilson made 27 tackles each, an English Six Nations record. They were ready for battle.

Ireland's big weapon, their kicking game, fell apart. Johnny May was able to take advantage of inexperience from Robbie Henshaw at full back, Gary Ringrose and even the usually reliable Jacob Stockdale. May knew from the set up when Ireland were going to kick and he was rarely out of position.

This may sound like sour grapes but I felt England were borderline many times with tackles and a few more of their players should have seen the sin bin. But if you get away with it, you get away with it. Will they continue to be that physical over the course of the Championship? I doubt it.

And for all England's perceived dominance, it is worth nothing that there was only four points in it at the 63rd minute and Ireland were attacking. A bad knock on and a try from that scrum cost them dearly, but on another day Ireland could have got out of jail with a better finish.

Perennial slow starters need to pick up

Rob Kearney cropped.jpg

The England defeat - their first at home in the Six Nations for six years - continued the pattern of Ireland starting cold in the tournament. They lost to Scotland two years ago and then last year were rescued by a Johnny Sexton drop kick in Paris. Now it is about making sure they don't suffer another loss.

The good news is Rob Kearney (pictured) returns at full back - the Robbie Henshaw experiment should not be thrown out, but for now Ireland need a steady hand at 15 and Kearney is one of the best around. Henshaw moving back to centre, alongside Bundee Aki, to replace the injured Ringrose means Ireland won't be super creative in the middle but they have other options for that.

Less positive is the loss of CJ Stander and Devin Toner. The latter is crucial in the line out and how will that function without him is a concern for the visitors.

Italy performance a worry for Scotland

Scotland come into the weekend's match on the back of a slightly strange game against Italy. Let's be honest, the Italians are woeful these days and the Six Nations administrators really should look at replacing them with another team.

While the Scottish team had a good 20-minute period at the start of the second half, Italy made them look average in the last part of the game and that is a real concern.

Only putting 38 points on the board against this Italy team is a real red flag. Scotland look weak at the scrum and toothless in attack.

If Ireland are serious about the Championship they will need to score bonus points against all their remaining opponents and hope Wales beat England in Cardiff in Round 3.

They should start the comeback trail with a bonus point victory in Scotland, making the even money handicap of -7 very tempting. Last year's tournament top try scorer Stockdale had a frustrating afternoon in Dublin and I would not be surprised to see him fire back into life at Murrayfield with the opener, so that's my second play of the game.

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