Scotland v Ireland, Murrayfield, August 6
Scotland look to ignore recent history
August 4, 2011
Graeme Morrison will hope to make an impact in the centres for Scotland © PA Photos
Scotland and Ireland will look to light the blue touch paper and kick-start their Rugby World Cup preparations with an impressive performance at Murrayfield on Saturday.
A place on the plane to New Zealand is the goal for the players on show but national pride is also at stake. Ireland prevailed 21-18 over Scotland in this year's Six Nations and history is very much on the visitor's side with the Irish winning 10 of the last 12 meetings.
Both sides have opted to experiment in some facets of their team while other familiar faces are looking to accrue as much match time as possible in an attempt to prove to the selectors that they are worthy of a spot in the final 30-man squads that will head to the World Cup.
For Scotland, this game represents just one of two opportunities for management to survey their options and players to stake their claim with Italy the only other visitors later in the month. In contrast, Ireland's World Cup hopefuls must weather three more Tests in addition to this game - France (twice) and England - as well as another non-international fixture with Connacht.
The merits of both approaches will be evident at the World Cup itself while Saturday's game will offer a more immediate gauge as to the success of their training schedules.
Scotland - Player to Watch: Centre Graeme Morrison comes back to the Scottish fold having not appeared since November 2010. Following his recovery from the knee injury which plagued his 2010-11 season, Morrison will hope to state his claim for a centre berth in the midst of firm challenges from the likes of Joe Ansbro, Sean Lamont and Nick de Luca.
Scotland - Team News: Ross Rennie makes his first start for Scotland in a back-row which sees Johnnie Beattie taking the No.8 shirt alongside Gloucester's Alasdair Strokosch at blindside. The Scottish team has a Gloucester back-bone with Rory Lawson captaining the side from scrum-half and Jim Hamilton lining up in the second-row alongside Richie Gray. Chris Paterson starts at fullback while Lamont switches to the wing to make way for Morrison. Ruaridh Jackson takes the fly-half reigns as he looks to outgun fellow ten Jonathan Sexton.
Ireland - Player to Watch: Rob Kearney starts at fullback and will appear in an Ireland shirt for the first time since 2010. The British & Irish Lions back missed the 2011 Six Nations due to a knee injury and Ireland will look to the 30-cap Leinster player for inspiration.
Ireland - Team News: Leo Cullen will captain the Ireland side for the first time where he will be partnered by Munster's Donnacha Ryan. Kearney returns to the fullback berth while Fergus McFadden and Paddy Wallace form a new centre partnership. Ulster's Andrew Trimble and Leinster's Luke Fitzgerald are given the nod on the wings. The front row sees Tom Court, Sean Cronin and Tony Buckley pack down while new cap Mike McCarthy will draw on the vast experience of compatriot Denis Leamy in the back-row. Tomas O'Leary will steer the side from scrum-half while Sexton continues at fly-half.
Key Battle: The veteran Cullen takes on the new charge Gray in what promises to be a fascinating battle in the line-out. Battle hardened Cullen played all the way up to the Heineken Cup final for Leinster while Gray was given the last couple of months of the season off by coach Andy Robinson. It will be interesting to see which of the two starts better with Cullen aiming to break up the likely second-row monopoly of Munster duo Paul O'Connell and Donncha O'Callaghan come the World Cup.
Trivia: Ireland's Luke Fitzgerald will hope to improve on his poor try return for the national side having crossed the line on only two occasions. The tries came in the same match against Italy back in February 2009.
Stats: Since the two sides met for the time in 1877 - Scotland lead the all-time statistics with 64 victories in the 125 matches compared to Ireland's 56.
"I think it's quite a positive thing that I'll be playing in this game and I'll take it one step at a time. I'm desperate to go to a World Cup, given I missed out on the last one. It still hurts, but I've learnt a lot since then. I've become a far more mature player, I've got a lot more international experience and I think I'm in a far better place to go to the World Cup and do well than I was last time round."
"With the number of warm-up games we have, lads could have possibly three to four matches played this time. For me the big difference this year is that when the first ball is kicked against the USA, the boys will be battle-hardened and up to speed in match fitness. The pre-season training has been difficult, but getting match fit is completely different to anything else."
Prediction: Even though recent history is on Ireland's side going into the fixture, Scotland will be determined to impress in front of their home fans following a poor 2011 Six Nations campaign. The hosts to win, but only just.
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