Six Nations opener
Scotland ready for stern Ireland test
Hines keen on good start
Scotland hope to avoid their usual slow start when they kick off their Six Nations Championship with the eagerly-anticipated visit of Ireland to BT Murrayfield.
Notoriously sluggish in the early stages of the competition, the Scots have managed just one opening day victory since 2006, when France were edged out 20-16 in Edinburgh.
Halting that trend will be key to a good campaign, though challenges don’t come much tougher than the one posed by Joe Schmidt’s side.
The Irish are riding high in confidence after an outstanding 12 months which has seen them record a first away win over South Africa and a stunning victory over the All Blacks in Chicago.
While aware of the unwanted statistic, Scots coach Nathan Hines insisted today that the players are not putting any extra pressure on themselves to see off the visitors, who are without Johnny Sexton, in the tournament curtain-raiser.
“In short competitions like this it is a big help to win your first game. It is the same as every year, it is vital. It would be ideal to get off to a good start.
“We have to be accurate in everything we want to do and try not to give them any unnecessary opportunities to win points. The tactical element of the game against Ireland is immense. They are very good at what they do. They find weaknesses and exploit them and can make it hard for you to play. It is how we combat that.”
This year’s championship is head coach Vern Cotter’s last one in charge of Scotland after three years at the helm, with the New Zealander heading to France in the summer to take the reins at Montpellier.
Flanker Josh Strauss will be sad to see him go and hopes the chance to deliver the perfect parting gift will drive the squad on to success.
“Throughout my career in situations like this when people are moving on, you want to give them a good send off,” he said.
“It always brings more incentive and you try that little bit harder. You need emotion to play rugby and it does give you an extra edge. All the boys have worked together for a long time.”
Strauss is relishing being back in the thick of the action after missing last season’s championship with a calf injury, adding: “It is great being back and I just want to get out there and do myself justice.
“Ireland are a very physical team, strive on set piece battles and are very good on lineouts.
“From a ball game perspective you run into a brick wall every time so you just have to keep going, keep chipping away and be patient.
“They have had a stellar year and we have a big challenge in front of us.”
Scotland: Hogg, Maitland, Jones, Dunbar, Seymour, Russell, Laidlaw; Dell, Brown, Fagerson, R. Gray, J. Gray, R. Wilson, Watson, Strauss.
Replacements: Ford, Reid, Berghan, Swinson, Barclay, Price, Weir, Bennett.
Ireland: Kearney, Earls, Ringrose, Henshaw, Zebo, Jackson, Murray; McGrath, Best, Furlong, Henderson, Toner, Stander, O’Brien, Heaslip.
Replacements: Scannell, Healy, Ryan, Dillane, van der Flier, Marmion, Keatley, Bowe.