Ireland have identified new Scotland captain Stuart Hogg as a prime danger capable of ruining Andy Farrell’s first match in charge. 

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It was just 17-and-a-half weeks ago under Farrell’s predecessor Joe Schmidt that the Irish blew a gaping hole in the Scots’ World Cup campaign, comprehensively beating them 27-3 in the rain in Yokohama at the start of the Japanese finals. 

Now they are all set to meet again in Dublin on February 1 and while the expectation is for Ireland to hit the ground running again under their new regime, there was warm praise to be heard at Wednesday’s Six Nations launch in London about the threat posed by the opposition player expected to be wearing the No15 shirt. 

“Stuart is a big cog in the wheel for Scotland and how they play, he has a big influence on the game,” said Farrell, who is making the step-up as Ireland boss having been an assistant to Schmidt since the June 2016 tour to South Africa.

“I suppose behind the scenes he will have a bit influence as well because he is a big character. He tends to leads with his actions on the field and I suppose over a period of time he has matured quite a bit because he has been a cheeky chap along the way when we coached him in 2013 (on the Lions), he was very young back then. 

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Andy Farrell talks Ireland selection and captaincy

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“It is very obvious to everyone watching the game how he has developed as far as his maturity is concerned. Gregor (Townsend) has said now is his time and he knows him more than most.”

Johnny Sexton, whom Farrell has appointed as new Ireland captain for the 2020 Six Nations, also pinpointed the role Hogg could play in causing an upset in Dublin. 

“I saw a huge change in him between (Lions) tours from 2013 in Australia. He was the youngest on the tour. He was only 20 at the time, if not younger. A massive change four years later (in New Zealand). He was like a different person and he has advanced further again and is the captain of Scotland. 

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“He has been up there as their best player over the last… since he has come on the scene really. Himself and Gregor know each other well, so I’m sure they will make a good team.”

Positionally, though, Sexton will have his own hands full in the opening weeks of the championship with Scotland’s Finn Russell expected to be his opposite number the first Saturday before Dan Biggar will arrive at the Aviva on February 8 likely wearing the Wales No10 shirt. 

“Huge threat,” said Sexton about Russell. “We did a lot of homework on him before the World Cup game. He is obviously playing a lot better over the last couple of months. 

“He has been playing really, really well for Racing and showing all the touches and the sort of moments of brilliance that he has, so we are going to have to be ready for all those tricks and they have got some other quality players in and around him as well that we have to be ready for.”

Switching to Biggar, Sexton added: “Good friend from the Lions tour and I still stay in touch with him. He is going from street to strength really. He is really going well under the new coaches in Northampton and they have qualified for the quarters in Europe now and he has played a big part in that. 

“Looking forward to locking horns with him again against Wales in a few weeks, but we have got a big one first out before we start thinking about Wales.”

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