Gregor Townsend has warned his Scotland players they are facing one of the ‘toughest challenges in world rugby’ as they prepare to face an Ireland team boosted by the return of two Lions on Saturday.
Joe Schmidt announces his team at lunchtime today and it is expected to show three changes from the starting 15 against Wales, with Tadhg Furlong and Iain Henderson returning to the side after injury.
They will replace Andrew Porter and Devin Toner, while Garry Ringrose should make his first appearance of the championship instead of the injured Chris Farrell.
Gregor Townsend is bracing his side for one of the toughest challenges in world rugby
Garry Ringrose is expected to return to the fray with a number of Irish players
The Irish pack will be bolstered by the return of the two Lions tourists, while the class of Ringrose will be expected to complement the power of Bundee Aki.
Jordan Larmour could return to the match-day 23 instead of Fergus McFadden.
Even before those changes, Townsend was yesterday predicting a major test for his visiting team.
He is giving a first start to Blair Kinghorn, who replaces injured winger Tommy Seymour, and he admitted his team face a daunting task, not least because of their terrible away record in the Six Nations.
Blair Kinghorn comes in for Tommy Seymour on the Scotland wing for Saturday’s clash
Since 2000, when Italy were admitted and the championship expanded to six teams, Scotland have played 46 away games and won only six of them.
‘I think, as I’ve mentioned before, we have a poor away record in the Six Nations,’ said Townsend.
‘We’re working hard to change that. But this is up there with the toughest challenges in world rugby, playing Ireland in Dublin.
Scotland performed impressively to win the Calcutta Cup but face another stern test
‘We’ll just be focused on how we go about that, how we get that win.’ However, while Grand Slam talk grows here, the fact that Scotland are still in the championship race despite their opening-day loss to Wales, was flagged by Townsend.
If they win on Saturday, then they go into the final round still in contention.
‘Yeah, we’re not out of it,’ he said. ‘So we understand that this game is huge for us, firstly as a one-off, but also to stay in the mix on the last weekend.
‘That gives the players a lot of motivation.’