Euan Murray's absence is always a big blow, but Scotland have coped without him in the past. The new laws have worked against big hookers like Ross Ford, which does concern me. The Scotland scrum was solid in the last championship and in the autumn, but there's no room for complacency as it is so important to getting front-foot ball.
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Ireland have never been the greatest scrummaging side. Cian Healy is a superb player, but he's there for his ball-carrying ability, not his power at scrum time. Scotland can more than hold their own here, just as they can at the line-out. That said, there have been some pretty ropey line-out spells in recent games, and Ford has to get it right. Jim Hamilton is our key man as far as getting everyone working together is concerned.
Ireland will miss Sean O'Brien, who is a great breakdown operator as well as a great ball-carrier. I like the look of the Scottish back row because they are a mobile trio. They'll certainly cover the ground well enough. Dave Denton is a powerful presence who gives forward thrust and Kelly Brown is looking leaner and meaner after losing a bit of weight. As regards Ryan Wilson, I just think he is a brilliant all-round rugby player.
Quick ball is the essence of the modern game. Defences are so well organised nowadays that speed becomes the main weapon. Ireland have been really good in this area in recent years, but they could be a different side without O'Brien. Brown was a top performer as far as securing turnovers was concerned last year, and he will have to be just as good again. This is the most crucial area of the game, and slowing Ireland down is key. But I think we have the manpower to do that.
Duncan Weir can play flat and hit the line. It would be good if he could put in an authoritative performance, not just with his kicking, but with getting his line moving as well. We need consistency of selection there to get the go-forward we need in attack.
There's no doubt we have dangerous runners in the backline. Those are pretty much the players I would have picked, although we obviously want Matt Scott back in there as soon as possible. I worry that we might be one-dimensional in midfield, but I'm a huge admirer of Alex Dunbar and this is a great opportunity for him to nail down that outside centre berth. He is up against Brian O'Driscoll so it would be wonderful to see him show his worth in that company.
We need to be more creative in the Irish half to get our back three into action. They are all fantastic attackers, but they have to be given the chances to show what they can do. We've not been the greatest attackers in recent years, but I certainly think we can be.
Duncan Weir's selection is probably a statement of how we will play over there. I think we will play more of a kicking game, and I don't think we'll be trying to do too much inside our own half. I'd also expect scrum-half Greig Laidlaw to be putting in a lot of box kicks to test out the Irish wingers, Dave Kearney and Andrew Trimble.
Accuracy is everything in this phase of the game. Aimless kicks will be punished as Rob Kearney, the Ireland full-back, has a massive boot on him, and he's no mean counter-attacker either. We have to kick to contest, so the chase is critical for us. If we can cause some grief with the high ball into the Irish territory then who knows what might happen? Sean Lamont and Sean Maitland are both physical and good in the air, and Ireland will be worried about what they can do if they have the carrot in front of them.
Concentration is everything here. We've generally been pretty good in this area, but we fell off too many tackles against South Africa in November. Ireland will ask different questions as they will vary things more than the Springboks, so we need to be absolutely on the ball, with good communication between the players.
Matt Taylor, the defence coach, will hammer three things into the players: go low, go hard and get on the ball. It's not all about turning possession over, slowing the ball down is just as important. If we can make it hard for Ireland to play at pace then we are in with a chance.