Preview: Ireland vs Scotland

Ireland have a point to prove against Scotland in Dublin on Sunday after losing at Murrayfield last year.

That loss, and the manner in which they dominated the game, only to come away empty-handed, will not have been forgotten by the home squad. Falling to the Scots at home, on the first weekend of the 2014 tournament, would be disastrous.

Ireland, though, appear to hold the aces. The breakdown, now more so than ever, is the front-line, trench warfare of elite rugby. The Irish are masters of this area and even without Sean O'Brien's influence, Chris Henry, Peter O'Mahony and even Rory Best are perennial nuisances for their opposition around the ruck.

Scotland's back row is a formidable one, but its apparent lack of balance could prove costly. Ryan Wilson, Kelly Brown and Dave Denton are powerful, ball-carrying forwards in a similar mould. There isn't a breakdown specialist among them; with coach Scott Johnson adamant skipper Brown will wear the No 7 jersey as long as he merits his place in the line-up. Tenacious fetchers John Barclay, Chris Fusaro, Roddy Grant and Ross Rennie are conspicuous by their absence.

The set piece, scrummage in particular, is another battleground that can go a long way to deciding the outcome of a game. No reasonable observer of the recent performances of Best and Cian Healy versus those of Ross Ford and Moray Low would deny Ireland the favourites tag up front. Quality front rows are in decline just as their importance in world rugby rockets, and Scotland's supply is running low. Low, Geoff Cross and Al Dickinson are not bad players, but neither are they a daunting prospect for the home pack.

Out wide, both sides boast a dangerous set of outside backs, but the visitors struggle to provide the likes of Stuart Hogg and Sean Maitland with quality possession. 'Not scoring enough tries' is a criticism of their team most Scots are sick of hearing, but that does not render it any less valid.

Beyond the obvious impotency in attack, there is a real problem in Scottish ranks when it comes to ruthlessness and execution. In other words, they don't take their chances. A poignant statistic from last year's tournament: Scotland scored more tries (five) from phase one play than the rest of the nations combined, but were the only side not to score from more than seven phases of possession.

Ireland – 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Brian O'Driscoll, 12 Luke Marshall, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Peter O'Mahony, 5 Paul O'Connell (c), 4 Devin Toner, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.
Subs: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Martin Moore, 19 Dan Tuohy, 20 Tommy O'Donnell, 21 Isaac Boss, 22 Paddy Jackson, 23 Fergus McFadden.

Scotland – 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Alex Dunbar, 12 Duncan Taylor, 11 Sean Lamont, 10 Duncan Weir, 9 Greig Laidlaw, 8 Dave Denton, 7 Kelly Brown (c), 6 Ryan Wilson, 5 Jim Hamilton, 4 Tim Swinson, 3 Moray Low, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Ryan Grant.
Subs: 16 Pat MacArthur, 17 Al Dickinson, 18 Geoff Cross, 19 Richie Gray, 20 Johnnie Beattie, 21 Chris Cusiter, 22 Matt Scott, 23 Max Evans.

Preview: France vs England

Preview: Wales vs Italy

Six Nations players to watch

Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images

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