Sunday’s match against Ireland at Murrayfield is shaping up to be the biggest task Scotland have faced since the last biggest task which was, oh, a whole ten days ago against France.

Some people have been making out that Scotland v Ireland is a title decider, and it will be if Ireland score a bonus point victory and England and France draw, as the Irish will be too far in front for anyone to catch. If Scotland win, Ireland will still be favourites to win the title, but the top three nations in the table – depending on either of England or France coming out on top on Saturday – will all still have a shout with bonus points becoming crucial

I said IF Scotland win, and that’s a big IF. History is against us. We have not beaten Ireland since 2017, though there have been a couple of close-run things, especially two years ago at Murrayfield. Overall, since the first encounter in 1877, Ireland have won 68 matches to our 66, with five draws. Ireland have won six Triple Crowns this century, Scotland are going for their first since 1990. We are up against the reigning Triple Crown holders and the top-ranked side in the world – a position they thoroughly deserve because they have been the world’s best side for many months now after their historic series victory in New Zealand last year. Scotland have been playing excitingly well but Ireland are the form team going into Sunday’s match, and I think we will do well to run them close while a Triple Crown and Centenary Quaich victory would be something quite extraordinary.

It will need Ireland to have a very off day and Scotland to put everything together, and much will depend on the fitness and attitude of Finn Russell. He played at the weekend for Racing 92 against Toulouse wearing what looked like a supporting bandage on his leg – never a good sign – but I understand he took part in training yesterday. If Russell can play for 80 minutes like he did in the second half against Wales, Scotland will have a real chance of a result.

Any sniff of a Triple Crown for Scotland makes this a massive match, but I see it very much as a rehearsal for the real big one when we play Ireland in the Rugby World Cup Pool B match in the Stade de France in Paris on Saturday, October 7 at 8pm. I don’t see either Ireland or Scotland slipping up against Tonga or Romania and by the time our two Celtic nations meet, we will both have played reigning World Champions South Africa and will know what we have to do to qualify for the quarter-finals and the joy of most likely playing hosts France or New Zealand.

I am guessing Ireland may not have to beat us on October 7 to make it out of the pool stages, but we will almost certainly have to beat Ireland to make that quarter-final. For that reason, Sunday’s rehearsal match is hugely important in the bigger scheme of things, for the performances in the World Cup are the real measure of a nation’s standing in rugby.

Imagine the psychological effects of victory or defeat on Sunday. Scotland start as underdogs against a rampant Ireland, but if the Scottish forwards front up to their mighty opponents from the first whistle and secure sufficient ball for Russell to unleash our lethal backs, then at the very least we can give Ireland a real fright. That will be a big marker for the World Cup and we will certainly know how much improvement will be necessary before October. Losing, and losing badly, will surely set back the squad’s mentality ahead of the World Cup. Yes I know we will have the final Guinness Six Nations fixture against Italy and the four summer tests to come, but defeat to Ireland, especially a heavy one, will play on the Scots’ minds and optimism on the part of players and fans alike will quickly be replaced by pessimism.

I do think the spur of winning Scotland’s first Triple Crown for 33 years will give the squad something extra to aim for, and while Ireland will not be complacent and they have a Grand Slam in sight, the fact is that something as ridiculous as the weather might help dictate who comes out on top on Sunday. Snow, rain and bitterly cold winds are all predicted for the Edinburgh area over the next few days and while Murrayfield’s famous undersoil heating will ensure that the game goes ahead on Sunday, I just hope we get decent playing conditions for the match itself because I believe a dry ball and dry surface will suit Scotland and we didn’t always used to say that back in the day.