|Six Nations 2020: Ireland v Scotland|
|Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin Date: Saturday, 1 February Kick-off: 16:15 GMT|
|Coverage: Listen on BBC Radio Scotland, BBC Radio 5 live extra & online; text commentary on BBC Sport website & app|
For Scotland, Dublin has long been a desolate hunting ground, the site of so many shellackings and so much misery.
Since 1998, the men’s team have won in Ireland once. In a dozen meetings since that 2010 victory, there have been three Scottish victory, all at Murrayfield, and one in a World Cup warm-up Test.
In the past three games, Scotland have scored only two tries and shipped a grimace-inducing 11. Ireland ran in four during the World Cup savaging that set the tone for a limp pool-stage exit in Japan.
Johnnie Beattie’s barnstorming try propelled the Scots to a stunning victory at Croke Park a decade ago. No Scotland men’s side has triumphed on Irish soil since.
How do they go about arresting that barren run on Saturday? Here, recently retired number eight Beattie outlines a tactical blueprint for at long last conquering Ireland in Dublin.
A sensible start
In 2019, Scotland shipped an eye-watering number of early tries. They emerged from the traps like slugs on crutches.
England and France (twice) scored in the opening minute of Test matches, Wales had a try inside 12, Ireland got two in 16 during the Six Nations and two more in 15 at the World Cup.
“Instead of throwing caution to the wind, I’d like to see Scotland start with a little more structure and pragmatism,” Beattie says. “Don’t run everything out of your own third, kick tactically and pressure Ireland.
“If you run everything from deep, we saw in the World Cup that to get to the opposition 22 you have got to be extremely accurate and you’re exhausted by the time you get there.
“If you don’t get there and it’s ambitious attack, you risk turning over ball, which is the hardest ball to defend and where I felt we came unstuck.”
Avoid ‘impending doom’
Few teams are as masterful as Ireland when it comes to suffocating play. They smother and spoil and bully their opponents with ruthless efficiency, gobbling up possession and turning it into points. Scotland have not kept them try-less since 2011.
“It’s horrible, but there’s almost that impending doom if Ireland get the ball in your 22,” Beattie says. “You kind of know what’s coming because they’re so well-organised but they’ve got good power and they’re going forward.
“Your discipline has to be on-point, no penalties, don’t allow them any easy field position and try to boss possession in the right areas of the field. That’s where Ali Price and Adam Hastings have got a huge task in directing the team, exerting pressure and squeezing them.
“Ireland are excellent at squeezing teams, making them cough up possession, and absolutely pouncing. It’s a question of dominating collisions wherever you can, giving them little go-forward and keeping them out of your third, because once they get down there, they’re very clinical.”
Allow ‘leader’ Hastings to flourish
In steering Scotland away from choppy waters, Hastings will play a monumental role. Since Finn Russell’s unsettling departure from the camp, it has been clear that the 23-year-old Glasgow fly-half would be given his first championship start in Dublin.
“Adam will have bossed the entire week at training and he’ll be relishing it because he’s a confident young guy in superb form with good players around him,” Beattie says.
“The pack, especially, need to get him going forward and he’ll be looking at centres Sam Johnson and Huw Jones to get yards and momentum. Once he’s on that front foot, he’s a very, very talented 10, so I’m not worried for him.
“If everyone does their jobs, Adam’s role becomes easy. He leads things at Glasgow week in, week out. He works well together with Price and Johnson and Jones. It’s not a case of people helping him, it’s just a case of them performing their roles and allowing him to perform his.”
Poach ball and ’cause damage’
It is fiendishly difficult to prise ball from relentless, bruising Irish phase play. It isn’t always cosmic rugby, but it is physically punishing and invariably effective.
Opportunities to pilfer possession are fleeting and Scotland must be clever in seizing turnovers when they can.
“Ireland are so structured that it’s really hard to get at them at the contact area. You really have to pick and choose and go hard at options that are presented,” Beattie says.
“Our flankers – Jamie Ritchie and Hamish Watson – are both world-class over ball. Fraser Brown and Zander Fagerson are huge at the breakdown. Rory Sutherland is good over ball. There’s threat all over our pack for poaching.
“You know that when Ireland have the ball, they have it for long periods, so we’ve got as good a chance as we’ve ever had of slowing down and jackaling some turnovers. And because their play is so structured, that turnover ball is absolutely key – against a disorganised defence, it gives us the best chance to cause damage.”
Boss the set-piece
Gregor Townsend has selected Sutherland, the explosive Edinburgh prop, at loose-head, and chosen Glasgow’s dynamic Scott Cummings to partner Jonny Gray in the second-row.
The Scottish pack face a mountainous task in halting the beef of the Irish scrum, spearheaded by Lions Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong.
“Sutherland looks like he has the physical mould of a top-class loose-head,” Beattie says. “He held his own against a monster Bordeaux-Begles pack for Edinburgh this month. Bordeaux-Begles talked during the week about massacring Edinburgh’s pack and he did an outstanding job.
“Scotland had a couple of line-out wobbles last year and it looked more like communication errors as opposed to bad throws or bad lifts. They have really got to do some serious work in that area.
“If, at scrum and line-out time you are in the mix, and you can pragmatically get in the right areas of the field, you know your odds of winning the game shoot up massively. Add in these simple things and front up physically and Scotland will be there or thereabouts.”