Six Nations: Jackman on Scotland v Ireland
by Bernard Jackman
"Smooth seas do not make skilful sailors" is an old African proverb that I believe is very apt for coaching and management in particular.
Declan Kidney is the most experienced Irish coach working professionally and is also more internationally experienced than all of his Six Nations counterparts.
This week, he had to make very hard decisions based on suspension and injuries.
He would have dipped into all his past experiences, both good and bad, to help him make them.
As everyone knows, the most controversial call was to select the young Ulster star Paddy Jackson ahead of Ronan O’Gara.
O’Gara is the man that Declan has coached since school and he has been one of his most trusted lieutenants for a large part of both of their careers.
The decision is a brave one as there is a lot riding on this match.
Whether it is the correct one or not is being widely debated.
Personally, I would have picked O’Gara for this match as I see him as increasing our odds of winning.
It is important to say that we may still win regardless, and I think we will.
But my view is that if Ronan was the second best out-half prior to the England game, dropping him based on his impact as a replacement and his form against the Scarlets for Munster last weekend is a little harsh.
Both of the packs he was behind were beaten up in those matches and it is very hard for any out-half to function in those circumstances. I know he is 35 and in the twilight of his career but his game has always been about his ability to steer the ship, not athleticism.
I believe that if he was starting that the boost in confidence and energy he would get from running the team this week in training would easily get him back into the form he was as recently as the Saracens matches in the Heineken Cup.
Jackson - Is he ready for the step up?
I am not 100% convinced that Jackson is ready at this minute to run the show at the top level although I have no doubt about his talent and long-term prospects.
The selection of Tom Court was also a tough call. In this case, it is Dave Kilcoyne who misses out. Kilcoyne is actually the player who most closely matches the strengths of the suspended Cian Healy.
But the selection does give an insight into Kidneys strategy for this match.
England coach Lancaster, speaking about their focus for the French game on Saturday, said that the key points were "win the set-piece, win the gain line and impact in the second half".
I think that Kidney’s approach will be quite similar.
We have very good ball carriers up front in Donnacha Ryan, Peter O’Mahony, Jamie Heaslip and Sean O’Brien and, even without Healy, I think we can win that gain line battle.
The key to Court is that he is in the scrummaging form of his life and has a relationship from Ulster with Rory Best at provincial level. I think they can put Scotland tighthead Geoff Cross under a lot of pressure at that contest.
Later on Kilcoyne, and Luke Fitzgerald, can be big impact players from the bench.
Tactics or mentality?
I have no doubt that we are a better team than Scotland and what will be the most important factor in whether we win Sunday or not will not be selection or tactics, but the mindset of this team.
We have come to take for granted that we will beat England in Dublin, having done so five times consecutively in the Six Nations. To lose that match having done "the hard part" of the opening fixtures by winning away in Wales will have rocked the players’ confidence.
The injury crisis is also a challenge for Ireland. We are without Mike McCarthy, Paul O’Connell, Chris Henry, Stephen Ferris, Jonathan Sexton, Gordon D’Arcy, Simon Zebo and Tommy Bowe and are definitely dipping into our talent base.
But we must address the reasons we were outmuscled by England for 80 minutes - our discipline was poor and there was poor execution of key skills under pressure.
Were we over-hyped for the game? Overconfident? Did we lack clarity in the game plan? Did we understand the repercussions of the weather and did we plan for those conditions?
It continues to be the case that this squad has struggled since 2009 to string consistent performances together.
Ireland must improve their ability to deliver
Ireland and Declan Kidney brought in Enda McNulty for this tournament to try and improve all aspects of consistency. He is world class in what he does and has been helping Leinster and individual Irish internationals for the last few years.
He is a performance coach and he looks at removing all potential roadblocks to high performance. His expertise and experience of elite business and sport will be crucial this week.
We need to go to Murrayfield and implement our plan with assassin like focus. No emotion just accuracy.
We must use our scrum and lineout maul to bully the Scottish pack. We must kick to contest or find grass as the Scottish back-three of Sean Maitland, Tim Visser and Stuart Hogg are their most dangerous unit.
We must control the pace of the game to suit us.
Despite the injury list, we still have a strong spine in our team with Rory Best, Heaslip, Conor Murray, Brian O’Driscoll and Rob Kearney in key positions.
To Paddy Jackson and Luke Marshall I wish them good luck, it’s a day they will never forget.
The memories will be so much better if they can win.
Live RBS 6 Nations coverage on RTÉ Two from 2pm on Saturday 23 February and 1.15pm on Sunday 24 February (Scotland v Ireland). Live streaming Ireland only.
Live radio coverage of Scotland v Ireland on Sunday Sport on RTÉ Radio 1 from 1.50pm. Live streaming available worldwide.
Scotland v Ireland, RBS 6 Nations, Sunday 24 February, Murrayfield, kick-off 14:00:
Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg 14 Sean Maitland 13 Sean Lamont 12 Matt Scott 11 Tim Visser 10 Ruaridh Jackson 9 Greig Laidlaw 8 Johnnie Beattie 7 Kelly Brown 6 Robert Harley 5 Jim Hamilton 4 Richie Gray 3 Geoff Cross 2 Ross Ford 1 Ryan Grant.
Replacements: 16 Dougie Hall 17 Jon Welsh 18 Moray Low 19 Alastair Kellock 20 David Denton 21 Henry Pyrgos 22 Duncan Weir 23 Max Evans.
Ireland: 15 R Kearney 14 C Gilroy 13 B O'Driscoll 12 L Marshall 11 K Earls 10 P Jackson 9 C Murray 1 T Court 2 R Best 3 M Ross 4 D O'Callaghan 5 D Ryan 6 P O'Mahony 7 S O'Brien 8 J Heaslip (captain).
Replacements: 16 S Cronin 17 D Kilcoyne 18 D Fitzpatrick 19 D Toner 20 I Henderson 21 E Reddan 22 R O'Gara 23 L Fitzgerald.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England).
Touch judges: Jerome Garces (France) and Greg Garner (England).
TV: Eric Gauzins (France).