Scotland and Ireland will collide in a mouthwatering match-up on Sunday with the 2023 Guinness Six Nations hanging in the balance.
Andy Farrell’s side lead the way in Rugby’s Greatest Championship, five points clear at the top of the table after three rounds ahead of the crucial clash at BT Murrayfield.
They beat Wales 34-10 in Round 1, then came out on top in a Round 2 classic against France before a closely fought 34-20 triumph over Italy in Round 3.
Scotland are at the front of the chasing pack, level on ten points with England and France, but ahead of their rivals with a superior points difference.
They recorded wins in their first two Championship matches for the first time since 1996, beating the old enemy in Round 1 before a 35-7 triumph over Wales in Round 2.
However, they did fall to defeat against France.
It is set to be an epic encounter, and with so much hanging in the balance, let’s take a look at where the game will be won and lost.
Ireland’s lineout drive has been a real weapon during the 2023 Guinness Six Nations, and Scotland’s chances of securing a win may hinge on their ability to stop it.
Farrell’s forwards may not have scored directly from their drive in this year’s Championship, but they have consistently given their backs a platform to play fom.
Scotland’s lineout has been heralded in the first three rounds of the Championship, but this will be their biggest test yet.
There will also be a crucial contest at the scrum, with Tadhg Furlong back in the frame.
The talismanic Ireland prop looks set to return to the Ireland squad for this one having recovered from a calf injury.
That will be a huge blow for Gregor Townsend’s side and their hopes of winning the scrum battle, but if Scotland can cope with Ireland’s abundance of world-class forwards, then there is no telling what they can achieve at BT Murrayfield.
Johnny Sexton and Finn Russell have been two of the stars of the Championship so far.
Evergreen Sexton has been his reliable self from the word go, dictating the pace of play and getting every drop of talent out of the players around him.
Russell is obviously a very different type of ten, but he has been equally outstanding, assisting four tries in the first three rounds and scoring one of his own.
Sunday’s clash could come down to which ten performs best.
If the game is open with a rapid pace of play then you would have to back Russell.
However, there are few fly halves better suited to a war of attrition than Sexton, and if the game goes that way then your money should be on Ireland.
The kicking battle
It is becoming increasingly common for closely-contested Test matches to be decided by each side’s kicking game.
In Round 1, Ireland neutralised Wales with their ability underneath the high ball, while Sexton ensured Farrell’s side played their rugby in the right parts of the pitch with a kicking masterclass at Principality Stadium.
They also got the better of the battle in Round 2 against France, forcing the likes of Romain Ntamack and Thomas Ramos into some uncharacteristic mistakes.
However, opposition teams kick to Scotland’s back three at their own peril, with the likes of Stuart Hogg, Duhan van der Merwe and Kyle Steyn ready and waiting to capitalise on any errors.
It was a sloppy England clearance and chase that allowed Van der Merwe to waltz through to the try line for his stunning score at Twickenham, and Ireland will be eager to avoid giving the winger any similar opportunities on Sunday.