6N: Scotland out to beat road blues to ruin Irish Grand Slam
DUBLIN (AP) — Gregor Townsend freely admits Scotland’s record in the Six Nations away from Edinburgh and Rome is a major issue.
Because it’s dismal.
The coach has taken it personally.
Soon after the Scots beat England two weeks ago to come into title contention, Townsend’s focus turned on to this Saturday in Dublin where awaits Ireland.
The unbeaten front-runner who could clinch the championship this weekend.
Winner of a national record-tying 10 straight tests.
Loser to Scotland at home only once in the last 20 years.
Unbeaten in its last 14 home games in the championship, double its previous best in the Five or Six Nations.
The past and present in this matchup appeared so intimidating that Townsend addressed the topic with the team, as a group and individually.
“We’ve had one-on-one meetings with everybody in the squad to talk about away games,” he says.
“It’s getting back to knowing what mindset, what preparation, is required to win away from home - because it is tougher. People will say it’s the same pitch, it’s the same team, but the stats show you in this tournament it’s tougher to win away from home.
“We’ve had one blip, we’ve had one experience where we didn’t get it right in Cardiff (where they lost to Wales 34-7 in the first round). We’ve now got a second opportunity to make sure we make the most of it.
“They have that feeling of knowing what it takes to win. We’d like to think we’ll see another improvement this weekend.”
Townsend says he’d be content with improvement, in attempting to downplay their hopes by suggesting victory was not essential.
“We have to make sure we play close to our potential,” he says. “If that means we win the game, then brilliant, but if it means that we just put in a very improved performance compared to the likes of Cardiff and Twickenham (in 2017), then that is a big step forward.”
Townsend is right to try and manage expectations. For all its progress, Scotland hasn’t followed a big win with another. Consistency remains lacking.
France was beaten in 2016 for the first time in a decade. Next match, defeat to Ireland.
Australia was beaten in Sydney last June. Next match, defeat to Fiji.
Australia was beaten again in Edinburgh in November. Next match, defeat to Wales to open this championship.
Two weeks ago, England was outplayed, outthought, and outlasted by Scotland in one of the biggest upsets in years. But it was within the warm embrace of Murrayfield.
This time, Ireland will throw up the hostile, loud, and partisan crowd at Lansdowne Road. The Irish also play differently, preferring to squeeze the life out of others, expertly conducted by Jonathan Sexton and Conor Murray.
The Scots are playing with adventure, thrilling crowds, and scoring tries. But flankers Hamish Watson and captain John Barclay aren’t likely to get as much leeway at the breakdown as England gave them. They also aren’t likely to see much ball in Dublin, though they have already showed that they don’t need a lot for Huw Jones and Stuart Hogg to be effective.
England’s mindset wasn’t right but that shouldn’t be a problem for the Irish. They could be champions for the third time in five years if they beat Scotland with a bonus point and England can’t match it against France in Paris a few hours later.
Their confidence is such that even though Lions forwards Tadhg Furlong and Iain Henderson were passed fit, only tighthead prop Furlong was summoned to start. Henderson is in the reserves, backing up the lanky Devin Toner.
How relieved would they be if they were to win the championship this weekend, and could roll into London on St. Patrick’s Day for a Grand Slam shot without a lot of baggage.
Ireland: Rob Kearney, Keith Earls, Garry Ringrose, Bundee Aki, Jacob Stockdale, Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray; CJ Stander, Dan Leavy, Peter O’Mahony, Devin Toner, James Ryan, Tadhg Furlong, Rory Best (captain), Cian Healy. Reserves: Sean Cronin, Jack McGrath, Andrew Porter, Iain Henderson, Jordi Murphy, Kieran Marmion, Joey Carbery, Jordan Larmour.
Scotland: Stuart Hogg, Blair Kinghorn, Huw Jones, Pete Horne, Sean Maitland, Finn Russell, Greig Laidlaw; Ryan Wilson, Hamish Watson, John Barclay (captain), Jonny Gray, Grant Gilchrist, Simon Berghan, Stuart McInally, Gordon Reid. Reserves: Fraser Brown, Jamie Bhatti, Willem Nel, Tim Swinson, David Denton, Ali Price, Nick Grigg, Lee Jones.