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Ireland v Scotland

Date: Saturday, 23 February
Kick-off: 1700 GMT
Venue: Croke Park, Dublin

BBC Coverage: Live on BBC One, BBC Sport website (UK users only), Radio Ulster MW.
Highlights on BBC Sport website (UK users only). Watch in full on BBC iPlayer for seven days from Sunday (UK users only)

Girvan Dempsey's hip injury has ruled him out of Saturday's Six Nations visit of Scotland to Croke Park with Geordan Murphy coming in at full-back.

However, skipper Brian O'Driscoll came through a test on his injured calf.

Ireland originally made two changes with Tommy Bowe returning to the wing for Murphy and Mick O'Driscoll at lock.

Scotland coach Frank Hadden brings back Chris Paterson at fly-half while Rory Lamont and Simon Webster return with Scott McLeod replacing Jim Hamilton.

Kelly Brown has now replaced the unfortunate John Barclay who withdrew with injury following a freak accident at a function.

With skipper Jason White also out with a head injury, Alasdair Strokosch will start his first Test at blind-side flanker while Webster now finds himself in midfield.

Both coaches are under extreme pressure with Hadden looking to improve on a wretched string of results over the past year.

Having lost both their opening fixtures, and scored only one try in the process, Scotland will not be travelling for their first visit to the 82,000-capacity Croke Park with any confidence.

But it is this type of situation that brings the best out of the Scotland side who will play a much wider game now that Paterson is back pulling the strings at number 10 and a pair of wings who can expect plenty of balls in their hands.

Whether their pack can gain parity with Ireland is doubtful. Against France and Wales, they attempted to barnstorm their way up field with limited success.

2007: Scotland 18-19 Ireland
2006: Ireland 15-9 Scotland
2005: Scotland 13-40 Ireland
2004: Ireland 37-16 Scotland
2003: Scotland 6-36 Ireland
2002: Ireland 43-22 Scotland
2001: Scotland 32-10 Ireland
2000: Ireland 44-22 Scotland

The kicking game of Dan Parks did not bear any fruit, so watch out for a different approach from Scotland who are now captained by wily scrum-half Mike Blair.

Whil Hadden contemplates a possible second Wooden Spoon, O'Sullivan, who is Ireland's most successful coach, is still under pressure from the usual suspects regarding the World Cup fall-out, and no matter what changes he tries to make, he is still criticised.

He is slowly bringing in new faces to freshen up the team, but he will still rely on some of the so-called 'untouchables' to carry him through to a possible fourth Triple Crown in five years.

The loss of Dempsey will not cast a negative shadow over Ireland. Indeed the opposite will be true as Dempsey may be the essence of consistency in defence, Murphy has that X-factor in attack.

O'Driscoll has not been as influential as he once was, even though the amount of work he gets through in his general all-round play is phenomenal.

But he is due to blitz a team sooner or later, so watch out for some fireworks on his home turf.

The inclusion of Bowe will add plenty of zip out wide, something that Ireland having lacked in recent outings.

The in-form Bowe has the sheer pace to take advantage of any opportunity that comes his way.

"It can be difficult to get involved early in a game, especially playing on the wing," said Bowe.

"If you're a forward, at least you're stuck in the middle of the action all the time.

"It's been something that I've been trying to do - get myself that bit more involved in the game.

"It's a goal I have for this weekend, too. It's something that I don't think I've done in the past when I've played for Ireland.


"I've maybe just sat on the wing and not imposed myself on the game, but that's something I want to change against Scotland."

The scrummaging display against France will give the Irish pack the confidence to gain the upper hand up front. But while the bottom line is that Ireland lost to France, the manner of their fightback when they looked out of it will stand them in good stead.

Ireland also have the luxury of a big impact from the bench with the experienced Paul O'Connell, Rory Best, Simon Easterby and Shane Horgan all raring to go.

If the going gets tough, expect them to be sprung sooner rather than later, which is now becoming a modus operandi of the normally reticent O'Sullivan.

Ronan O'Gara was the inspiration for Ireland's second half uplifting performance against France, and the Munsterman will be the key to unlock Scotland.

The battle between Blair and Eoin Reddan at the base of the scrum could one of the key battles of the game. Despite being on a defeated team, Blair has been resilient, brave and intuitive and will again be Scotland's prime mover.

Reddan, on the other hand, has slotted in beautifully as O'Gara partner following his usurping of Peter Stringer.

No matter how the two sets of forwards perform, it will be between the two half-backs as to who will come out on top.

Apart from last August's pre-World Cup warm-up defeat, Ireland have won the last seven Six Nations clashes. It points to pieces of eight for the Irish on Saturday.

Ireland: G Murphy (Leicester); T Bowe (Ulster), B O'Driscoll (Leinster, captain), A Trimble (Ulster), R Kearney (Leinster); R O'Gara (Munster), E Reddan (Wasps); M Horan (Munster), B Jackman (Leinster), J Hayes (Munster), D O'Callaghan (Munster), M O'Driscoll (Munster), D Leamy (Munster), D Wallace (Munster), J Heaslip (Leinster).
Replacements: R Best (Ulster), T Buckley (Munster), P O'Connell (Munster), S Easterby (Llanelli), P Stringer (Munster), P Wallace (Ulster), S Horgan (Leinster).

Scotland: Southwell (Edinburgh); Walker (Ospreys), Webster (Edinburgh), Henderson (Glasgow), R Lamont (Sale); Paterson (Gloucester), Blair (Edinburgh, capt); Jacobsen (Edinburgh), Ford (Edinburgh), E Murray (Northampton), Hines (Perpignan), MacLeod (Scarlets), Strokosch (Gloucester), Hogg (Edinburgh), Brown (Glasgow).
Replacements: F Thomson (Glasgow), Kerr (Edinburgh), Hamilton (Leicester), Rennie (Edinburgh), Cusiter (Perpignan), Parks (Glasgow), De Luca (Edinburgh).

Referee: Christophe Berdos (FRA)

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