If Ireland get you in a stranglehold, you’re done. Let them pin you down inside that 22 and, well, the struggling is only likely to make it worse.
Scotland have a pretty solid understanding of the clear and present dangers confronting them in Dublin on Saturday. Which is a start. But only a start.
They also know that, with that humiliation in Cardiff on the opening weekend still fresh, they have a point to prove about their ability to compete away from home.
Former Scotland captain Mike Blair insists the current team ‘are not the finished article’
Former captain Mike Blair, now an assistant under head coach Townsend, said yesterday: ‘It’s a confident group of players. But they’re also aware that things don’t just happen.
‘You know, that performance against Wales, that was only three games ago.
‘So we’re aware that we’re not the finished article. There is lots of work that goes into a good performance.
‘And we need a lot of things to go right if we’re going to perform in Ireland.
‘This will be at least as tough as facing England at home. Ireland play a very dominant brand of rugby.
‘They’ve been very successful with it and will be firm favourites for the game.
‘England, the second best team in the world, that was a big challenge. But this week is something a bit different.’
Blair is now an assistant under head coach Townsend and is preparing the team for Ireland
The particular style of Ireland causes different problems, of course. The bulldozer charges in a narrow channel no more than a foot from the ruck, the endless hammering at the line – it can grind any team down.
Blair, choosing some brutally descriptive language to warn about what Scotland might expect, said: ‘One key thing about them is their relentless phase play.
‘Their ability to get into your 22 and suffocate you. They will stay there until they take points away.
‘They’ve done that at international level, but you also look at Leinster.
‘That’s part of their game, as you saw when they had, I think, 42 or 43 phases against Exeter. And they have similar personnel.
‘Ireland did it well against Wales. Whenever they got into that gold zone, that finish zone, they scored points.
‘So that’s going to be a big focus for us, preventing that from happening.
‘Intensity is probably a key word for them. They go hard at the breakdown when they’re carrying – they’re very quick on the ball there, which allows them to get those phases going.
Scotland have recorded wins over France and England but beating Ireland will be tough
‘They are creeping the yards, making two or three yards on each carry, which all adds up.
‘But they’ve got some flair behind the pack, as well. Bundee Aki has power at centre. So they’ve got a great balance to the team.
‘But we can’t allow them to just go through the phases, go through the patterns and make yards on us. We have to stop them.
‘There will be opportunities, as well. We’ll tell you on Saturday evening whether they’ve worked or not.
‘There will be similarities to England, with Ireland having Andy Farrell as defence coach, the Saracens background. They are quality teams.
‘We need to be able to put them under pressure. I felt we did that against England by holding on to the ball and manipulating their defence.
‘We need to do that to Ireland. We can’t let them dominate the game as they have in the past 18 months or so.’
The particular style of Ireland causes different problems as they are relentless in attack
As ever, the first step to curtailing the opposition – especially away from home – involves at least matching them in terms of physical strength, aggression and energy.
It takes a lot of muscle to create those half gaps for the playmakers and game-breakers.
Fortunately, Scotland are in good shape. In fact, rarely will they have boasted more collective strength heading into the penultimate round of a Six Nations.
Big names unavailable so far are now back in the squad. And there hasn’t been the usual slew of injuries to key men during the Championship itself.
Blair revealed yesterday that this durability, while partly down to fortune, was also a product of a deliberate toughening-up policy on the training ground.
‘We feel the work we do during the week gets players ready for what happens in games,’ said the former scrum-half.
‘Whereas, previously, you would get a lot more intensity in games than in training.
‘What we’ve tried to do is have more intense training than in games. It makes us more robust when it comes to muscle-type injuries.
‘There are still certain injuries you can’t do anything about. We’ve been lucky, so far, not to have any of those yet.
‘The medical team do a brilliant job, too. There are guys who have come back when we thought they’d have no chance of being able to play – never mind 80 minutes. So they’ve done great work.’
Scotland’s most recent victory in Dublin came at Croke Park way back in 2010
There will be a lot of talk this week, of course, about Scotland’s most recent win in Dublin.
Oh, there were some scenes at Croke Park back in 2010, all right. And in the team room later that night, apparently.
Blair, who came on as a replacement for Chris Cusiter that day, recalls plenty about the 23-20 victory. Not least the contribution of stand-off Dan Parks, who kicked one brilliant drop goal, then set up and converted a magnificent penalty to clinch victory in the dying moments.
‘It was some game,’ he said. ‘Ireland had a lot on it. They were going for a triple crown and it was the last game at Croke Park. We hadn’t had the most successful season.
‘It was a great experience as the team pulled together and Dan Parks had a really good game.
‘Dan had a few drinks after the game and was commentating on it at two in the morning. Talking himself up a lot!
‘He had a fantastic game and had incredible nerve to kick that penalty at the end. It was a great occasion.’ The chances of a repeat depend on loads of little details. And one overriding goal. Avoid falling prey to the ‘three falls and a submission’ tactics of an Irish team with a penchant for sucking the life force out of opponents.