Ireland v Scotland: Stuart Hogg out to banish awayday blues in Dublin
The last time Scotland won in Dublin the game was at Croke Park and Dan Parks was the hero.
A lot of water has flowed along the Liffey since then but the one constant has been the Scots’ poor away form. Until this season.
It’s hard to overestimate the importance of the victory in Llanelli in October which brought to an end a miserable winless run in Wales which stretched to ten matches across 18 years.
It’s a decade since Scotland beat Ireland on their own patch but this feels like a good time to enjoy another awayday.
“The Wales game was a big one to get the monkey off our back – to get that away against one of the top tier nations was really big for us – but it doesn’t mean that suddenly playing away from home is now easy,” said Mike Blair, Scotland’s assistant coach and part of the side that won in Dublin in 2010.
“This game will be as hard as any game we play, whether we won in Wales or not. But that Wales win has given us that little bit of confidence that these wins are very much possible – that if we play well, to the best of our ability, they are within our reach.”
The Wales win was bookended by a couple of victories in Italy as Scotland put together a five-match winning streak which began in February and resumed in the autumn.
France put an end to the run at Murrayfield last month but Gregor Townsend’s squad are a durable bunch and look equipped to handle what is likely to be a huge physical challenge at the Aviva Stadium this afternoon.
Not surprisingly, Stuart Hogg, the Scotland captain, also takes heart from the 14-10 success at Parc y Scarlets where the visitors overcame the loss of not one but two stand-offs to see out the game.
“I believed that we could go down there and win and we did exactly that,” he said. “It allowed boys to relax a bit and express themselves a bit more, which is what we want.
“We want boys to go out there and play with a smile on the face and showcase their talent. Getting big victories like that allows the boys to relax a bit more.”
Hogg ended up in the No 10 role for the final 12 minutes in Llanelli after Finn Russell and Adam Hastings were invalided out and the full-back could reprise the role today. There is no stand-off cover on the bench as Jaco van der Walt makes his Scotland debut in what is a third-place play-off match for the nascent Autumn Nations Cup.
Van der Walt is the third South African to be blooded by Scotland in this international window after Duhan van der Merwe and Oli Kebble, with all three qualifying on residency grounds.
Hogg has been impressed by what he’s seen in training from the Edinburgh stand-off.
“He's asked questions at the right time and driven us around the field in a good way this week, so hopefully he can do the same at the Aviva.
“He has been outstanding for Edinburgh over the past few years and I’m looking forward to seeing him on the international stage. We will try to keep on as long as we possibly can. If I’m given an opportunity to play at 10 then I will just be following in his footsteps.”
Van der Walt’s debut coincides with the return of Johnny Sexton to the Irish side and Hogg is warynn of the threat posed by the Leinster veteran.
“Defensively we’ll have to be on the money,” said the Scotland full-back. “We can’t go chasing him or trying to put a big hit on him, because he’s more than capable of distributing and putting boys away through the hole.
“Maybe last time we went chasing him and he managed to put boys through holes and it ended up in tries. He’s an unbelievable talent and one we’re going to have to keep an eye on tomorrow.”
Ireland prevailed 19-12 in Dublin in the Six Nations in February in a match that marked the start of Hogg’s captaincy. The Hawick man squandered a golden opportunity to score a second-half try that afternoon when he dropped the ball over the line.
He fronted up afterwards and you sense there hasn’t been a backward step since but Hogg will be determined to right a few wrongs today.
“A huge part of the game that let us down last time we were over here was our breakdown work,” he said. “We left ourselves short a few times and got turned over at crucial moments in the game.
“That’s something we’ve looked at since then. I believe we’re getting better, and it’s is going to be another challenge for us. If we get our breakdown right and defend really well, we take our opportunities when they’re on offer, we give ourselves every chance of winning. We know it’s going to be really tough, but we’re ready and excited to go out there.”
The quality of the rugby played by all the teams in the Autumn Nations Cup has been questioned, with too much emphasis placed on kicking and defence.
Blair knows Scotland have the talent in their backline to cause problems for Ireland but acknowledges they will need to pick their moments.
“It’s about balance,” he said. “We’ll discuss potential opportunities or kick strategy that might give us back better ball but obviously there are also times to get our exciting runners like Darcy [Graham], Duhan and Hoggy into the game.
“Defences in world rugby are more on top at the moment and more time is being spent on that. It’s harder to break teams down but we still need to back the quality we’ve got to do that.”
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