Mike Blair: Scots must take chance to impress in Dublin

By Mike BlairFormer Scotland scrum-half
Mike Blair is expecting a big performance from Scotland's Dave Denton
Mike Blair is expecting a big performance from Dave Denton in Dublin
Ireland v Scotland
Date: Saturday, 15 August Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin Kick-off: 17:00 BST
Coverage: Listen on BBC Radio Scotland 810MW/DAB/online

Depending on where a country is placed in terms of their development cycle and World Cup preparation, warm-up games are used for different purposes.

They can be a blow out to get rid of the cobwebs, a confidence builder, an opportunity to look at fringe players or a chance to forge combinations ahead of the big games.

It was interesting to read that Joe Schmidt and Warren Gatland discussed their selections before last week's Wales versus Ireland 'friendly' - essentially deciding what they wanted to get out of the game.

Scotland's side for Saturday's game in Dublin is fairly experimental, perhaps looking at a few positions in particular that Vern Cotter hasn't quite decided on.

I would imagine that the plan would be to pretty much nail down his World Cup squad prior to the third summer game and then use those last two games to mould the team for the start of the tournament.

This means that for many of these players this could be their only opportunity to claim a seat on the bus/plane/train.

Interestingly enough, some of the players running on to the pitch as team-mates could be playing for the same one spot.

Scotland's World Cup warm-up games
Ireland (away)Saturday, 15 August
Italy (away)Saturday, 22 August
Italy (home)Saturday, 29 August
France (away)Saturday, 5 September

Jim Hamilton and Grant Gilchrist are probably fighting it out to see who joins the Gray brothers if Cotter decides to take Rob Harley or Al Strokosch as an auxiliary second row.

In the stand-off position there might be a scrap as to who takes the ball at first receiver with Ruaridh Jackson, the full-back, looking to earn one of the spots as a 10, over Greig Tonks whose more recognised position is full-back.

Hugh Blake and Blair Cowan are also both predominantly open-side flankers playing in the same side although it would seem that Cowan is nailed on, therefore maybe this is just a look at whether he has the necessary qualities to cover other positions in the back row.

Number eight will be causing some selection headaches with Dave Denton, Adam Ashe and Josh Strauss all offering slightly different qualities. I don't know whether Cotter has the luxury of taking all three.

Denton generally reacts very well to a challenge of having to prove himself so expect a big game from him on Saturday.

There must be a special mention for the extremely talented Richie Vernon who will play in the 13 jersey.

There are only five Scottish players who have started an international in the backs and forwards and the last player was 137 years ago! With his versatility and form at the tail end of last year, Vernon has a great chance of making the cut.

Richie Vernon
Vernon won the last of his 20 Scotland caps two years ago - and in the back-row

You have to feel for Stuart McInally, an unused replacement against South Africa in 2012 as a back row and now missing out on his first cap through illness. The management are clearly keen to see what he can do so he will still get his opportunity.

Ireland are far from full strength either but due to the maturity and experience in their squad there are a lot more recognisable players and units in their ranks.

They have a sprinkling of first-choice players throughout and, with the strong performance last week in the win against Wales, they will want to maintain the momentum and form that has taken them to second-ranked team in the world.

I guess one of the key questions is how important is it to win these games?

As the warm-ups come and go and the World Cup approaches it becomes more and more important to win but I think, certainly for this match, that Cotter will be happy to have some of his individual selection quandaries satisfied, a good performance showing rhythm and understanding of structure and no injuries.

It should also be remembered that at this stage of the preparations the players are not expected to be at their strongest, fittest or fastest.

Neil Potts, the head of strength and conditioning for Scotland, will have organised his whole summer programme with an eye on "periodisation" - peaking at the right time - and that time is mid-September, not now.

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