Six Nations 2017: Scotland ready to 'have a go' at Ireland, says Cotter

By Tom EnglishBBC Scotland
Vern Cotter
Cotter says Saturday's opponents Ireland "play a great game of chess"
Six Nations 2017
Dates: 4 February-18 March Coverage: BBC TV, Radio and online

Scotland head coach Vern Cotter says his team are ready to "roll their sleeves up and have a go" at Ireland on Saturday at Murrayfield.

The Kiwi described the Irish as one of the best teams in world rugby.

And he feels a nervous energy among his squad ahead of the Six Nations opener in the Scottish capital.

"It's an exciting start," said Cotter of the visitors, who have won 14 of the 17 meetings between the sides since the beginning of the Six Nations in 2000.

"Ireland have just beaten the All Blacks, they've beaten Australia and South Africa. These are not one-off results. Consistently, they're a good team. So, we get the chance to measure ourselves against them.

"I can feel a nervousness within the group. They know it's a big game. They're ready to roll their sleeves up and have a go. I think being a little bit nervous means you're sharper and more on edge. You need that. You need to be wary of the opposition - especially against these guys."

Scotland team to play Ireland

Cotter sprang a bit of a surprise when replacing John Barclay with Josh Strauss in his back row. Barclay had started nine of the last 10 Tests under Cotter including all five in last season's Six Nations.

Strauss has only one Six Nations start to his name - the win over France in Edinburgh last year - but his form for Glasgow was the deciding factor. Strauss has been a big ball-carrying presence for the Warriors, particularly in some pressure games in Europe.

"It's great to see players pushing hard for selection," said Cotter. "Josh, since November, has really kicked on. It's great to have those choices, because we'll need everybody for this competition.

"The guys have a vision for the Six Nations, there's no doubt about that. Whatever vision you have determines your behaviour. These guys are working hard to get better. That's the only way you can approach it. There are no guarantees in sport, we know that. But that desire we've seen for the last two seasons is still there.

"We need to be sharp. We need to be able to adapt. They'll have plays we haven't seen and we need to adapt to them. We've worked through the head and heart stuff that builds performances. You can't just have the heart and no head. You can't have it the other way around, either. It's about a fine balance, being smart, preparing well."

Scotland are without their first-choice props, Alasdair Dickinson and WP Nel, and go with the inexperienced but highly promising Allan Dell and Zander Fagerson. They have only once won their opening match of the Six Nations - against France in 2006 - and to break that cycle of failure they are going to have to overcome a side that have just come through one of the most successful years in their history.

Ireland's depth is impressive. They have lost Johnny Sexton but replaced him with Paddy Jackson, who played fly-half when Ireland beat the Wallabies in the autumn.

"He's obviously a proven 10 at international level, but may not be thinking so fondly of the last international game he played at Murrayfield," said Cotter.

That was a reference to the 2013 loss to the Scots when Jackson was picked at fly-half and had a game to forget. Cotter said that Jackson has done a lot of growing up since then.

Ireland have lost Jared Payne, a hugely important part of their midfield but their centres on Saturday - Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose - are the most exciting midfield partnership since Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy.

Donnacha Ryan, a colossus against the All Blacks, has been left out of the 23. Jordi Murphy played openside that night - and scored - and Josh van der Flier played in the position when Ireland beat Australia a few weeks later. Sean O'Brien, a series-winning Lion and scorer of two tries the last time he played against Scotland at Murrayfield, takes over on Saturday. They have options that most teams do not have.

"Ireland move you around," added Cotter. "They play a great game of chess. Strong up front, a good kicking game, they turn you around in channels, try to make you exit poorly and then attack from line-out. The idea is not to give them what they want. It's up to us. There is a bit of stress out there. We have to function and play under that stress.

"The trap is that every year that Scotland get talked up. We're realistic. We know which teams are ranked ahead of us, we know what the rugby hierarchy is at the moment. It's up to us to change that."

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