Easy does it: Ronan O'Gara's performance in Murrayfield will decide just how much Ireland win by

IF Declan Kidney was writing this preview, he'd tell you that Scotland were coming off a win, that they'd beaten Ireland in a pre-World Cup game in 2007 and that Murrayfield was always a difficult place to go to. He might even remind you that neither he nor Tracy Piggott had ever known a soft Scotsman.

So, it's going to be tough next Saturday, but then we know that because although Italy are pitiful behind the scrum, they're tough, and although the Scots are not a whole lot better, they're obviously tough on their home patch as well. And the Six Nations is tough, especially when Ireland, who let's face it are genuine Grand Slam contenders, can only manage to see off a desperately unambitious and uninspired England by a single point at Croke Park. At the risk of beating the same drum again, there is no outstanding side this year.

As the Irish keep their feet on the ground, take it one game at a time, and focus on the challenge ahead – they're hardly going to reveal plans for an open-top bus ride through the streets of Dublin on 22 March – Kidney would publicly agree with the assessment that there is precious little between the teams, however, a couple of his charges have suggested that despite being the only ones left with a Grand Slam in their sights, they've yet to hit their best form.

Of course, you could move the thought processes in another direction and trot out the statistic that Ireland have won every Six Nations game against Scotland since 2002. While we're not taking issue with the Scots' machismo, that makes seven victories in a row by the way.

They do have quality up front in Simon Taylor, Euan Murray and the promising hooker Ross Ford, while the Evans brothers, Max and Thom, are strong and spectacularly quick respectively, but don't be fooled, there were real fears among their own right-thinking pundits that they would be turned over by Italy.

Scotland are poorly coached by Frank Hadden, who has demonstrated that he doesn't have much of a clue as to his best line-up, and short on self-belief. Troopers such as Mike Blair and Jason White haven't made an impact this season, and Chris Paterson is no longer sure of his place.

Despite the fact that Ireland's set pieces have been secure to date, Al Strokosch has come out and suggested that the Scots are likely to target the visitors' scrum. "If we defend as well as we did against Italy and dominate the scrum, then we have every chance against Ireland. Last season, Italy pushed us off the ball, but our scrum is a new weapon for us."

That noise you can hear now is John Hayes, Jerry Flannery and Marcus Horan quaking in their boots. Okay, the Irish probably don't have a scrum to brag about, but when someone like Strokosch, who has won precisely nothing with club and country, and who has a grand total of nine caps, starts talking down a pack with six Munster stalwarts and the in-form Jamie Heaslip and Stephen Ferris, the only conclusion has to be that Scotland are desperate.

Ireland wouldn't want to throw any loose passes given the threat posed by Thom Evans' pace, but in truth, unless Brian O'Driscoll and Paul O'Connell and the rest have the sort of miserable day sport can sometimes turn up, there could be as much as a 15-point difference between the teams.

Although Kidney constructed a firewall around Ronan O'Gara after the England game, it wasn't just the out-half's place kicking that was a cause for concern. His general play was poor, and by the standards he sets himself, he hasn't had a good championship so far. If he performs up to scratch next Saturday, Ireland will win pulling up.

With much stronger forwards and superior backs, Ireland are settled, confident and apparently immune to the gathering storm of expectation. O'Driscoll's defensive play has been nothing short of stunning, Luke Fitzgerald is on his way to becoming the country's most complete footballer, Tommy Bowe was excellent against England and Ferris has been the find of the championship.

It's difficult to see how Scotland will cope. No soft Scotsmen then, just a few wilting in the final 20 minutes as Ireland make it four wins out of four.

SCOTLAND (probable) C Paterson; S Danielli, M Evans, G Morrison, T Evans; P Godman, M Blair (capt); A Dickinson, R Ford, E Murray, J White, A Kellock, A Strokosch, J Barclay, S Taylor

IRELAND (probable) R Kearney; T Bowe, B O'Driscoll (capt), P Wallace, L Fitzgerald; R O'Gara, T O'Leary; M Horan, J Flannery, J Hayes, D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell, S Ferris, D Wallace, J Heaslip

Referee J Kaplan (South Africa)

Six Nations

Scotland v Ireland

Saturday, Murrayfield 5.00

Live RTÉ Two, BBC One

Stats: Ireland V?Scotland

» In the only RWC pool game played between the two countries, Scotland defeated Ireland 24-15 at Murrayfield in October 1991

» In Six Nations games since 2000, Ireland have beaten Scotland eight times and lost on only one occasion, 2001

» In November 2006, Stephen Ferris (Ireland ) and Jim Hamilton ( Scotland ) became the 1000th players to be capped by their respective countries

» Scotland have won 10 Triple Crowns (the last in 1990), Ireland have won nine (the last in 2007)

» Ireland first played at Murrayfield in 1926. Since then, they have won more times (20) at the venue than they have lost (19)