The result will probably be of little consequence in a stadium well short of its capacity, but there is still plenty riding on this afternoon’s Murrayfield encounter for Ireland’s World Cup hopefuls, with winger Tommy Bowe dubbing it perhaps “the biggest game” of his life.
WORLD CUP WARM-UP MATCH: Saturday, August 11
SCOTLAND v IRELAND, Murrayfield, 2.30pm (live RTE One/BBC One)
Bowe and company know that this is their one last chance to shine before Eddie O’Sullivan sits down with his coaching staff tonight and decides on the 30 players who will represent Ireland at the forthcoming World Cup.
For some like talismen Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell, today’s game is a much-needed chance to gain some pitch-time and blow the cobwebs away, while the same applies to Paddy Wallace whose seat on the plane to France is assured as Ireland’s back-up out-half.
For others, particularly Bowe, Geordan Murphy and Brian Carney in the back three and the back rowers which include Alan Quinlan and Keith Gleeson on the bench, they know from O’Sullivan’s pre-match pronouncements that there are still World Cup places up for grabs in their positions.
The remainder of the selected team also have an opportunity to put down a marker. As with all World Cups, injuries can strike at any stage and O’Sullivan will be looking to his second string players to prove they have the ability to step up for first team duty against what is largely a full-strength Scottish side.
Four years ago, Ireland took a 29-10 win away from Edinburgh in a lively pre-World Cup fixture. A similar result is unlikely, given the lopsided starting line-ups and new combinations in the Irish team, and a lot more focus will be on the performance.
Without a summer tour, Scotland are itching for a game. Just as O’Sullivan has to cut his selection down from 37 to 30 players, Scottish coach Frank Hadden has a tough task in axeing nine players before announcing his 30-man World Cup panel by Tuesday.
The Scots have been forced into a late change to their matchday 22 with Ospreys flyer Nikki Walker taking the injured Hugo Southwell’s place on the replacements bench. Southwell damaged his hamstring in training yesterday afternoon.
Munster prop Marcus Horan travelled over to Edinburgh with the Irish squad yesterday as precautionary cover for tighthead Simon Best who has been nursing a back spasm. The Irish management expect the former Ulster captain to start.
Home advantage could swing the game in the Scots’ favour but another tight win, similar to the Six Nations cliffhanger between the sides, is well within the capabilities of the visitors.
Ireland have not lost to Scotland since 2001 and following on from the brace of tour defeats to Argentina earlier this summer, a win today would still be a welcome boost despite the emphasis on the individual and collective displays.
Scotland: Rory Lamont; Sean Lamont, Rob Dewey, Andrew Henderson, Simon Webster; Chris Paterson, Mike Blair; Allan Jacobsen, Ross Ford, Euan Murray, Nathan Hines, Jim Hamilton, Jason White (capt), Allister Hogg, Simon Taylor.
Replacements: Fergus Thomson, Craig Smith, Scott MacLeod, Kelly Brown, Chris Cusiter, Dan Parks, Nikki Walker.
Ireland: Geordan Murphy; Brian Carney, Brian O’Driscoll (capt), Gavin Duffy, Tommy Bowe; Paddy Wallace, Isaac Boss; Bryan Young, Jerry Flannery, Simon Best, Paul O’Connell, Malcolm O’Kelly, Neil Best, Stephen Ferris, Jamie Heaslip.
Replacements: Rory Best, John Hayes, Alan Quinlan, Keith Gleeson, Eoin Reddan, Ronan O’Gara, Shane Horgan.
Referee: Tony Spreadbury (England)
Touch Judges: Wayne Barnes (England), Carlo Damasco (Italy)
Television Match Official: Rob Debney (England)