In a not unfamiliar plotline Scotland VS Ireland enter the penultimate round of the Six Nations desperate for a win. This time, however, such a result would not result in avoiding the wooden spoon, but would allow the team to compete for their first championship of the century – their first Six Nations title.
If Scotland want to convince Scotland as such, they must use bold words, such as “confident” and “ambitious”, and play accordingly at Murrayfield on Sunday.
It may be the marketeers of this year’s Six Nations who are feeling desperate. This year’s visitors to Edinburgh are Ireland, oozing with confidence and ambition, almost as if they were exhaling. If they win one more big game, to go with their 15 points out of 15, they would all but end the championship. The Super Saturday would be turned into Saturday.
In the event that Scotland wins, all that would change. It might even conjure echoes of Super Saturday 2015, when all three matches featured potential winners.
The bookies have Scotland as a seven-point underdog. That equates to a little less than 30% chance of a home victory. So it isn’t out of the question.
In spite of Scotland’s talent and ability to defeat anyone on their day, let us not patronize it anymore. Despite all their derring-do, they remain vulnerable to muscular, consistent teams who keep coming at them, and the Irish are the best exemplars of this nemesis. Hence the recent performance against them.
Fly-half, Finn Russell, has long represented Scotland’s fortunes. Although he has reached heights beyond those of mortals who share a rugby pitch with him, he has also proven to be capable of imploding. It amounts to the same thing if he tries to force his brilliance when it doesn’t happen naturally.
The dynamic here, however, seems to be changing. He faces genuine competition for his place. Before the autumn, Russell’s international career seemed to be shattered, when Gregor Townsend excluded him from his initial squad entirely. Russell was recalled a week or two later, and now he features in most pub conversations about the world’s best players.
As a result of a much-lionized win last time around, Scotland’s loss in Paris felt familiar, but it also felt different, as they recovered from outlandish early setbacks and might have easily won had they not recovered. The fluctuating energies were personified by Russell. His forced cut-out pass gave France an interception try for a 19-0 lead in the first half, but he was a vital part of Scotland’s comeback from 25-21 down with 10 minutes left.
There is a sense of maturity about him. He is even getting on with his coach. This could be Russell’s time.
Even Ireland will be alert if it does. Andy Farrell welcomes the mature maestro every fly-half wishes they could be, Johnny Sexton, all 37 years of him. They roll into town looking a million dollars, No. 1 in the world and on maximum points. After stepping off the starting team last time, Conor Murray, almost 34, returns alongside.
In spite of the loss of key personnel to injury, Ireland have maintained their dominance. In place of Stuart McCloskey, Ireland fields Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw as reserve players. Tadhg Beirne is out for the remainder of the championship, so Iain Henderson continues in the engine room, as does the musical chairs for Lions in the back row. Oh, and Tadhg Furlong returns.
Many players in the northern hemisphere wear the blue of Scotland. There may or may not be a Super Bowl next Saturday, but this Sunday is odds-on.