Evolving Ireland to edge Six Nations clash with Scotland
Ireland are long odds-on favourites at 1/7 to beat Scotland at the Aviva Stadium in their first Six Nations encounter of 2014, but their form’s been patchy under new coach Joe Schmidt and the hosts to just about overcome a nine-point handicap at 8/13 looks the most likely outcome in Dublin.
Schmidt almost pulled off the unthinkable during the autumn series, when his new charges were minutes away from becoming the first Irish side to beat the All Blacks in an international test, but they were woeful when losing 32-15 to Australia in the previous game.
Scotland will field four Six Nations debutants in the shape of lock Tim Swinson, centres Alex Dunbar and Duncan Taylor and flanker Ryan Wilson, while second row Devon Toner, winger Dave Kearney and back row Chris Henry make their first starts in the tournament for the hosts.
The presence of young props Jack McGrath and Martin Moore point to potential problems for the Irish as the competition progresses, as Cian Healy’s issues with injury and ill-discipline will surely see them thrust into action between now and the middle of March.
However, the Irish pack will be boosted by fully fit captain Paul O’Connell, while Brian O’Driscoll kicks off what he promises will be his last Six Nations campaign with a record 129th cap against Scott Johnson’s bruisers.
Scotland beat Ireland in last year’s annual renewal, but they haven’t won in Dublin since 2010 and come into this match as rank outsiders after only beating Japan and Italy in their last eight outings.
Number eight Jamie Heaslip has an enviable scoring record for both Leinster and Ireland, with 22 trys bagged over the last decade, and he looks cracking value at 16/1 to go over first and 7/2 to touch down at some point in the match.