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Scotland bid to keep Six Nations title hopes alive against Ireland

(Scotland are preparing to go head to head with Ireland in the Six Nations. Photo: AFP)

EDINBURGH, (AFP):- Scotland will be seeking to keep their Six Nations title hopes alive when they host Ireland at Murrayfield on Sunday.

AFP Sports picks out three talking points as Gregor Townsend’s men look to snap a run of five straight defeats against the Irish.

Russell magic

Ireland forwards coach Paul O’Connell and captain Johnny Sexton agree this is the best Scotland side for two decades and Finn Russell is the main threat.

Adding spice to the encounter in Edinburgh is that both Russell and Sexton are competing for a spot on the British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa.

“He (Russell) is obviously a big threat for us, knowing he has a full box of tricks he tries to pull out in most games,” said Sexton.

“He is a threat to the line and has a good short kicking game, he can pull the strings if we let him.”

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell wants two wins from their final two games, the last one at home to England next week, after two defeats in their three matches so far.

However, he knows that to achieve his first goal of beating Scotland his men must stop Russell and captain Stuart Hogg dictating play.

Gibson-Park threatens Sexton-Murray axis

Johnny Sexton remains the undisputed first-choice fly-half for Ireland but it appears long-time half-back partner Conor Murray is no longer an automatic pick.

Sexton’s Leinster team-mate Jamison Gibson-Park starts in the Scottish capital even though Murray is fit again after missing the previous two games due to a hamstring problem.

The New Zealand-born Gibson-Park could be faulted for France’s first try in Ireland’s 15-13 defeat last month but Garry Ringrose praised his speed of delivery in the 48-10 thumping of Italy.

Farrell said 29-year-old Gibson-Park had brought a lot to the team since his debut in October.

“He brings tempo and a little bit of off-the-cuff-type feel to the game,” said Farrell. “He plays what’s in front of him. He is dynamic, he has good footwork and he can ask questions of any type of defence.

“And his game control is pretty good on the back of that so it is a nice package to have.”

Home comforts?

Scotland will start as favourites on Sunday after impressive performances in the two matches so far — a shock win against England and a narrow loss to Wales.

But they have not played for a month after their match against France was postponed following a coronavirus outbreak in the French camp.

Former Ireland fly-half Tony Ward believes this will give Farrell’s team hope as Scotland could be rusty.

“The game against the Italians, no matter what you say about the level of opponent, is much better than a training session so that is a definite advantage,” he told AFP.

And home advantage is less of a factor this year due to the absence of crowds as a result of Covid-19 restrictions.

The Scots have recorded their first win at Twickenham since 1983, France won in Dublin in the Six Nations for the first time in a decade and Wales beat the Scots at Murrayfield.

“As we have seen with Liverpool losing six on the bounce at home, if anyone tried to convince me that the crowd not being there plays no role they are in cloud cuckoo land,” said Ward.

“Playing teams away is nowhere near as intimidating as before.”

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