Six Nations 2018: Former fly-half Ward 'expects' Ireland to beat Scotland

Rob Kearney is tackled by Sean Maitland as Scotland beat Ireland in the opening game of the 2017 Six Nations
Rob Kearney is tackled by Sean Maitland as Scotland beat Ireland in the opening game of the 2017 Six Nations

Former international fly-half Tony Ward says he expects Ireland to beat Scotland in Dublin on 10 March in what "could be another cracker of a game".

Ireland are the only unbeaten team in the Six Nations after wins over France, Italy and Wales, but face the Scots and England in their final two matches.

"It will be a really intriguing encounter but we can take nothing for granted," said 19-times capped Ward.

"If we get over the Scottish hurdle all roads will then lead to Twickenham."

"The Joe Schmidt psyche demands that Ireland will take one game at a time so you could say we have won our quarter-final against Wales, now we have a semi-final against Scotland to come with a timely break in between," he added.

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Ward knows that talk of a Grand Slam is now inevitable after Saturday's dramatic 37-27 win over Wales was followed by England's 25-13 reverse at the hands of Scotland, leaving Schmidt's side five points clear at the top of the table.

"Stuart Hogg is on fire and Huw Jones, like Jacob Stockdale, is scoring tries for fun but I do expect us to beat Scotland," Ward said.

"The difficulty will come when the players leave camp and go back to their families and communities because there is such excitement and expectation.

"There is going to be huge pressure on the players when they leave the 'bubble' of camp as we have only won two Grand Slams in our rugby playing history and now we have the opportunity to add another one - nine years after the last."

'An absolute thriller'

Chris Farrell earned his third Ireland cap against Wales in Dublin

The former Ireland number 10 believes their performance against Wales was their "best of the season, taking into account the November internationals", with Munster centre Chris Farrell worthy of his man-of-the-match accolade.

Ward added: "Ireland were so good in the circumstances in terms of controlling the game, possession and field position. From the outset it was just a fascinating, brilliant Six Nations encounter full of intrigue, quality and loads of mistakes - an absolute thriller from beginning to end.

"Bar Johnny Sexton's kicking on the day it was pretty much a perfect Joe Schmidt performance, right up there with some of his best: Just a great, great win.

"Chris Farrell was outstanding, unbelievable. He provided a beautiful link in the Robbie Henshaw mould and he and CJ Stander set the tone very early on in terms of physicality.

"He never let up the whole game and was a very easy man-of-the-match choice, even though a lot of Irish players were in the frame for that."

Tony Ward was speaking on Radio Ulster's Sportsound programme and is part of their Six Nations coverage.