If round one of the Guinness Six Nations was a big one, the stakes are only looking to grow larger in round two.
Nowhere is that more the case than at BT Murrayfield on Saturday, where Gregor Townsend’s buoyant Scotland will look to take their shot against current champions Ireland.
The Scots of course downed Italy in dominant style last week while Ireland were edged out by England in Dublin, and will be desperate to taste Championship victory once again.
With both head coaches having named their 23s on Thursday, we take a look at a few of the key talking points surrounding Scotland.
Scotland may be without the injured WP Nel and Sam Skinner against Ireland this week, but the overall picture of their squad depth is becoming clearer, and more positive, with a number of key men available again.
Townsend has named four changes to his team to take on Joe Schmidt’s men and all display the squad depth the national side has developed over the last few years.
BREAKING | Scotland make four changes for this Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations clash with Ireland @BTMurrayfield.
🔄 Berghan and Strauss replace injured Nel and Skinner, Gray & Maitland return from injury for Toolis and Kinghorn who move to the bench.
— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) February 7, 2019
With 47 caps, the totemic Jonny Gray returns at lock and will provide plenty of experience, likewise the 38-cap Sean Maitland on the wing.
Battling hooker Fraser Brown has returned to fitness and starts on the bench, where he’ll be joined by fit-again Rob Harley and Pete Horne, all tried and trusted men in the heat of Tests.
Townsend commented: “We’ve have had a boost with a number of proven Test players returning from injury and available to us this week.
“To have that calibre of player and experience around the group in the build-up this week, and during a game of such magnitude, is very important.”
Of course, with so much experience returning to the Scotland fold it was inevitable difficult decisions would have to be made, and none more so than on the wing, where Maitland replaces Blair Kinghorn.
Edinburgh youngster Kinghorn sensationally ran in a hat-trick against Italy last week, the first Scot to do so in the Championship for 30 years.
Kinghorn, 22, earned the Guinness Six Nations Player of the Round Award for his exploits against the Azzurri, but, as they always say, these are the kinds of selection decisions head coaches like to have.
“We were always hoping Sean (Maitland) would get back fit for this game,” commented Townsend.
“Sean would have been starting against Italy with Tommy Seymour if he’d been fit. Blair’s performance did mean that we had an extended discussion that probably went on a second day, but we believe that Tommy and Sean are best equipped for this game.
“Nothing should be taken away from Blair’s performance. So to have the three of them available to us, one off the bench, means we’ve got stronger cover at back three than ever before.”
CROUCH, TOUCH, REPEAT
If Townsend and Scotland are looking for the perfect template to base their game upon this weekend then they need only look back to the game-tape from this fixture in the 2017 Championship.
The Scots ambushed Ireland in that round one match, surviving a late onslaught to win 27-22.
Stuart Hogg scored twice in a stunning start on that day, before Alex Dunbar’s try off the lineout built a 21-5 lead which Ireland ultimately couldn’t come back from.
The Edinburgh crowds will be desperate for a repeat of that dramatic match, with Townsend recognising that Ireland’s defeat to England last week will have a bearing on Saturday.
“They (Ireland) know that if they lose this weekend it’s unlikely they are going to win the Championship,” Townsend added.
“We play a slightly different way from other international teams, but the players have seen what England did, how they were able to get that win and I’m sure we’ll take a few lessons from it.”