6N: Ireland is coming and Scotland looking for another upset
Scotland smells blood in the water.
Watching Ireland get cut down by England last weekend in Dublin, of all places, has given Scotland a fresh jolt that it can upset the Irish on Saturday in the Six Nations for a second straight time at Murrayfield.
"We're looking to fly into them," reserve back Peter Horne says.
No. 8 Josh Strauss recalls them flying into the Irish when they came to Murrayfield two years ago, and shooting 21-5 ahead with three converted tries in the first half hour. Though they ended up needing to make a comeback to prevail 27-22, the victory template is there.
"We fronted up very well. We'll need to take a similar step," Strauss says. "If we match that we will probably get something out of the game."
A Scotland win would be an even bigger shock than England's. Scotland has won seven straight Six Nations matches at Murrayfield, but, for now, Scotland is not a Six Nations title contender and Murrayfield is no fortress.
Ireland has won at Murrayfield on six of its last eight visits. And Scotland lost at home in November to South Africa, which started fast and stayed in front, and managed the game expertly in the second half even with a man in the sin-bin. Argentina arrived after the Springboks and lost only on the scoreboard.
Scotland is braced for a backlash from the Irish, who knew what was coming from England and were still outmuscled. The Irish were embarrassed at home . Coach Joe Schmidt has taken umbrage at critics who questioned whether he had a Plan B.
Ireland flanker Peter O'Mahony admits they have been hurting since the defeat, but they can still successfully defend the championship. "Absolutely. I don't know why we would be panicking."
Schmidt has restored to his lineup the leadership of flanker Sean O'Brien and fullback Rob Kearney. His other changes were forced by injuries to CJ Stander, Devin Toner, Garry Ringrose, and Robbie Henshaw, all key players in their rise to No. 2 in the rankings. Ireland is still favored, but if it is to retain the title it has to win out. That is win all four remaining games, three of which are on the road. It can't afford another loss.
That extra pressure on Ireland is what Scotland thinks it can exploit.
"There will be some doubt in the back of their minds that if we beat them their title dreams are gone," Horne says.
Strauss adds that another good start by the Scots could force Ireland to reconsider its tactics, put it in two minds. Pile on even more pressure.
Scotland will start with five changes, like Ireland, though they appear more seamless. Injuries removed Willem Nel and Sam Skinner but, if anything, the Scots are more experienced with the return of Jonny Gray and Strauss in the pack, and Sean Maitland on the wing for Blair Kinghorn, whose hat trick of tries against Italy last weekend made him the first Scot in 30 years to do it in the championship.
It took coach Gregor Townsend two days to weigh up Maitland and Kinghorn: "More difficult than what we planned it was going to be the week before."
The week before, Ireland also appeared unstoppable. The wheels haven't suddenly fallen off; it took an incredible effort by England to stop the Irish. And their record is such that they haven't lost two matches in a row in more than 2 1/2 years. They have always bounced back.
"How we respond now will determine whether it's a bump in the road," captain Rory Best says, "or more than that."
Scotland: Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour, Huw Jones, Sam Johnson, Sean Maitland, Finn Russell, Greig Laidlaw (captain); Josh Strauss, Jamie Ritchie, Ryan Wilson, Jonny Gray, Grant Gilchrist, Simon Berghan, Stuart McInally, Allan Dell. Reserves: Fraser Brown, Jamie Bhatti, D'arcy Rae, Ben Toolis, Rob Harley, Ali Price, Peter Horne, Blair Kinghorn.
Ireland: Rob Kearney, Keith Earls, Chris Farrell, Bundee Aki, Jacob Stockdale, Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray; Jack Conan, Sean O'Brien, Peter O'Mahony, Quinn Roux, James Ryan, Tadhg Furlong, Rory Best (captain), Cian Healy. Reserves: Sean Cronin, David Kilcoyne, Andrew Porter, Ultan Dillane, Josh van der Flier, John Cooney, Joey Carbery, Jordan Larmour.