Scots to rely on new-found flair against Irish
Having scored more tries in two matches than in the whole of last year's competition, Scotland has finally found the cutting edge out wide to form a threat in the Six Nations heading into Sunday's match against Ireland.
The Scots crossed the line four times in a morale-boosting 34-10 victory over Italy two weeks ago, showing more flair in their backline than they have in years.
They now have proven finishers in foreign-born wingers Sean Maitland and Tim Visser, while fullback Stuart Hogg - a scorer of two of Scotland's six tries so far - has run more meters (201) with the ball than any other player in this year's Six Nations.
With home games against the Ireland and Wales left, there is even an outside chance Scotland can challenge for the title despite a 38-18 loss to England on the opening weekend.
"It's a vast improvement from where we have been in the past in terms of finishing," Visser said. "Looking at the table, a lot of teams have now picked up a win, so the tournament is now winnable with a loss. But you can also end up bottom of the table with a win."
Scotland hasn't beaten Ireland at Murrayfield since 2001, and will be wary of a backlash by the Irish after their 12-6 loss to England last time out.
However, the visitors will be weakened after injuries to first five Jonathan Sexton, center Gordon D'Arcy and lock Mike McCarthy, as well as the suspension of prop Cian Healy for stamping on England's Dan Cole.
"They are a good team no matter who plays, so we are not looking at it like a weakened side is facing us," Visser said. "Ireland will be very physical. The first 20 minutes will be hell on earth. They are going to unleash everything they have against us. If we can ride out that first 20 minutes, then we are in with a chance."
Often regarded as a conservative coach, Declan Kidney has taken a major gamble by deciding against recalling veteran flyhalf Ronan O'Gara in the absence of Sexton and instead selecting Paddy Jackson.
O'Gara, who has made 127 test appearances, has struggled for form this season and had a disappointing game when he came on as a substitute for the injured Sexton in the first half against England.
"Paddy's inclusion was a challenge given that somebody of the stature of Ronan O'Gara was available," Ireland coach Declan Kidney said. "After taking everything into account, I felt Paddy deserved a go. Paddy has the skills and has shown he has the temperament and ability to make decisions."
Luke Marshall will make his test debut after being called up as D'Arcy's replacement.
Scotland's one enforced change was the replacement of tighthead prop Euan Murray, who doesn't play on Sundays for religious reasons, by Geoff Cross.
Scotland: Stuart Hogg, Sean Maitland, Sean Lamont, Matt Scott, Tim Visser, Ruaridh Jackson, Greig Laidlaw; Johnnie Beattie, Kelly Brown (captain), Robert Harley, Jim Hamilton, Richie Gray, Geoff Cross, Ross Ford, Ryan Grant. Reserves: Dougie Hall, Jon Welsh, Moray Low, Alastair Kellock, David Denton, Henry Pyrgos, Duncan Weir, Max Evans.
Ireland: Rob Kearney, Craig Gilroy, Brian O'Driscoll, Luke Marshall, Keith Earls, Paddy Jackson, Conor Murray; Jamie Heaslip (captain), Sean O'Brien, Peter O'Mahony, Donnacha Ryan, Donncha O'Callaghan, Mike Ross, Rory Best, Tom Court. Reserves: Sean Cronin, David Kilcoyne, Declan Fitzpatrick, Devin Toner, Iain Henderson, Eoin Reddan, Ronan O'Gara, Luke Fitzgerald.