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Can Scotland follow Six Nations win by defeating Ireland?

Scots showed extremes of good and bad against Italy as they prepare for wounded Irish.

Win: Hat-trick hero Blair Kinghorn takes the crowd's acclaim.
Win: Hat-trick hero Blair Kinghorn takes the crowd's acclaim. SNS Group

Producing a bonus-point win in the Six Nations curtainraiser was a sure-fire crowdpleaser, but how much can be learned in dispatching of an Italy team so far behind the rest?

Certainly no Scots fan is complaining at the Thistle sitting atop the championship table after the first round of fixtures.

The fact it was achieved against a side without a win in this tournament for four years, and sitting below Tonga, Georgia and the USA in the world rankings, does put a significant asterisk against Scotland's five-try triumph.

It was a performance of extremes from Gregor Townsend's team, producing long spells of quality to wow the critics, but finishing with a slump that gave plenty of negatives to sink one's teeth into too.

Scotland relished the limelight from the first whistle and played aggressively in Italian territory, particularly in the first and third quarters.

Debutant Sam Johnson looked immediately at home and, surrounded by so many Glasgow Warriors clubmates past and present, it was no wonder he adapted to the test arena so quickly.

Blair Kinghorn tested the Italian defence at will - he scored twice before half-time and once after it to take the plaudits.

Finn Russell was nominated for European Player of the Year last week and he showed why with a masterclass at fly half. His distribution was perfect, he picked the right times to stretch the defensive line with intelligent running and his kicking was on-point - particularly when finding Kinghorn with a delicious cross-field chip to send the winger in for his first score.

Breakdown was an issue for Scotland in the autumn but the Azzurri never threatened to seriously test the mettle of the hosts at Murrayfield. Stiffer battles around the ruck await.

The set piece was also solid for the most part. The line-out was inch-perfect with Edinburgh's Stuart McInally's darts comfortably finding clubmates Ben Toolis, Grant Gilchrist and Jamie Ritchie. The scrum was messy but never put pressure on the Scots.

Two periods of the match gave pause for thought ahead of Ireland's visit next week. A 20-minute lull leading up to half-time saw the rhythm sucked out of the dark blues and Townsend noted his concern at this let-up. Better teams will punish them for taking their foot off the gas.

A truly worrying final ten minutes will be pored over by the players and coaches at their training base in the west of Edinburgh over the next 24 hours though.

https://stv.tv/sport/rugby/1435200-townsend-feet-on-the-ground-despite-bonus-point-start/ | default

With a 30-point cushion, Townsend had emptied the bench when Italy finally exerted pressure in the Scots 22. Four penalties later Simon Berghan received a yellow card on behalf the the persistently infringing team and Conor O'Shea's side were merciless against the 14 men - running in three tries and dominating the play.

Among the Scots pack in that time were two debutants, but the biggest miss on the park was Greig Laidlaw.

Ali Price is a fine scrum-half who is returning to his best form, but the captain's ability to command a pack is peerless.

Key: Laidlaw offers Scotland much more than just a trusty right boot.
Key: Laidlaw offers Scotland much more than just a trusty right boot. SNS

Townsend felt the players should have stood off the breakdown more and that's where Laidlaw uses his nine years and 67 caps of test match experience to manage games. He cajoles his forwards to attack rucks where they can - "Go get the ball!" he barks when an opposition player is tackled and isolated.

But likewise he knows innately when to hold back from throwing men to the deck in favour of keeping them on their feet and in the defensive line.

In a closer game, only injury or fatigue will stop Laidlaw from being on the field, and it all points towards being a fiercely tight encounter when the reigning champions Ireland head to Edinburgh next Saturday.

Champions out to get campaign back on track

Rivalry: Scotland and Ireland have enjoyed some ferocious Six Nations battles over the years.
Rivalry: Scotland and Ireland have enjoyed some ferocious Six Nations battles over the years. SNS

Joe Schmidt's team has built an aura around it in the last two years - Grand Slam champions, conquerors of the All Blacks, and one of the most admired teams in the world.

Defeat at home to England was not in the script for them. Eddie Jones's side dominated Ireland all over the Lansdowne Road on Saturday night and what comes next of the Boys in Green is a test of character.

Will they unleash a backlash on Scotland to regain their hard-fought reputation? Or will they, like England in 2018, allow doubt to seep in and embark on a run of soul-searching defeats?

The Ireland squad runs deep but it is hard to see Schmidt throwing away too many of his tried and trusted combinations - though he may abandon the selection of Robbie Henshaw at full back after a cacophony of raised eyebrows in the lead-up to that England defeat.

To beat the second best team in the world will need every facet of selection to work, a gameplan devised and executed to perfection and a heady dose of X-factor to catch the Irish off guard.
Jamie Borthwick

Scotland have nothing like Ireland's strength-in-depth and are also unlikely to change too much in terms of personnel. Townsend has injury concerns over WP Nel (calf) and Sam Skinner (ankle).

Skinner's is the more serious of the two and it would be no surprise to see Josh Strauss start at 8 with Ryan Wilson shifted to the blindside flank to face-off against the magnificent Irish breakaway Peter O'Mahoney. Otherwise the pack is likely to be unchanged.

There are two questions to ask in the backs. Has Huw Jones got enough credit in the bank to keep his 13 jersey, and can a fit-again Sean Maitland force a way in?

Jones is out of form but still a sensational weapon in attack. If Chris Harris would be the man to come in then you feel that Jones with his ten tries in 20 caps just edges it, still, despite the Newcastle man's maiden try against Italy.

Return: Sean Maitland is back fit for Scotland.
Return: Sean Maitland is back fit for Scotland. SNS

Maitland will not dislodge Stuart Hogg at full-back, and Kinghorn's hat-trick surely earns him the 11 jersey. The question then is do you remove Tommy Seymour, whose prowess under the high ball will be vital against Ireland's kicking game?

To beat the second best team in the world will need every facet of selection to work, a gameplan devised and executed to perfection and a heady dose of X-factor to catch the Irish off guard.

All three fell into place in 2017 when Scotland won a marvellously hard-fought encounter at Murrayfield, and home advantage counts for so much in the Six Nations.

Act One saw an expectant crowd given what they came for. Scotland now return to the stage as underdogs against darlings of the world rugby stage.

Townsend and co will be planning to rip up the script.

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