IIt is a measure of their popularity that the previous round of the Six Nations felt so empty without Scotland and France. Damn this virus. It’s hard to say which absence from the country was felt the most intensely, but if Scotland wanted the perfect opportunity to remind us why we love them so much these days, while also adhering to the tedious directive of winning, they couldn’t have chosen much more appropriate opponents than Ireland. . .
If exciting rugby is your thing, Ireland hasn’t been so beloved of late. It’s probably not a coincidence, they also have something of a curse on the Scots, having won nine of the last 10 matches between the two.
The typical narrative sees Ireland indulging Scotland’s flamboyant swordsmanship for a time, only to draw a weapon, like Indiana Jones in Raiders of the lost arkand shoot them. Scotland’s mission is to make those cuts count this time, proof, as much as anything else, of how much they have grown since they started courting neutrals with their derring-do, which was actually quite a long time ago.
Much resides, as always, in Scotland’s two most famous players, Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg, the very embodiment of their fickle brilliance. As both players approach 30, they are maturing to be comfortable in modes other than full attack all the time. And it has done nothing to diminish its popularity.
Anyway, there was something hideously familiar about the last outing from Scotland a month ago. As controversial as the circumstances of their loss to Wales at home were, a cynic could have declared it almost inevitable the week after an era-breaking victory over England at Twickenham. Similarly, a trip to France in the next round with nothing to lose would have been the kind of assignment Scotland could have taken on.
In a weird way, postponing that event could teach us more about them. Having as their next appearance after Wales another home game against a team that has become a nemesis is further proof of their credentials. More so, without a fervent crowd to yell at them home. Bookies have fringe favorites from Ireland, as if they don’t care how popular Scotland has become.
The home side make four changes to the team that lost to Wales. Sean Maitland has shown his return to fitness. Or, since he did it in Saracens’ loss to the Cornish Pirates, maybe he didn’t. Either way, he replaces Darcy Graham on wing, while Sam Johnson makes his first start of the tournament at center. Zander Fagerson is replaced, after his red card against Wales, by WP Nel in the tighthead, and in the back row Jamie Ritchie recovers after injury.
Headline news from Ireland is Jamison Gibson-Park’s selection of fit Conor Murray. Andy Farrell has described the former bringing a bit of improvisation to Ireland’s game, as if he had plans to emulate Scotland’s popularity after all, as if he had recorded the pick midweek from the Scotland field that Ireland was predictable.
On the other hand, Farrell has made three changes to the team that restored Ireland to winning ways with the regulation win against Italy. Keith Earls returns to the wing, as do Cian Healy and Rob Herring to the front row.
All is lost for Irish title hopes, courtesy of two opening losses, in Wales and at home to France. Whether that makes them more or less dangerous remains to be seen. Perhaps the most dangerous factor for Scotland is their own state, as it is still in it, more so if a date cannot be found for the postponed match against France, in which case, presumably, they would be awarded a victory with bonus points. . .
Even that, however, would require Wales to slip up in Paris in what was supposed to be the last game of the tournament. That infuriated one-point loss to the Welsh in the second round is proof of the emptiness of Scotland’s continued popularity. If they want to consummate love soon, the victory over Ireland at home is practically non-negotiable.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism