ABOUT this time of year in 1998, Scotland headed to Dublin for their first match of the Five Nations in a state of severe disarray. Their coaches had just been sacked after a loss to Italy (yet to join the Championship), they had suffered a humiliating defeat the previous autumn, and senior SRU figures were coming under fire for their autocratic tendencies. They duly won the game 17-16.

The circumstances surrounding that match are a handy reminder that nothing is ever quite as bad as it seems, and the way in which Scotland played is perhaps a useful blueprint for the coming Test. In a nutshell, it was back to basics: heads-down, no-nonsense, determined rugby, illuminated by the odd moment such as Alan Tait’s finish for his team’s only try.

When you’re in a corner, you need your most dependable and experienced players to rise to the occasion, and you cannot afford to take too many risks. The Scotland team of 2020 are in just as dire a state as their predecessors of 1998 were, especially given the loss of Finn Russell, and the response of Gregor Townsend - national coach now, and the outside centre back then, incidentally - will surely be to select his most reliable performers in the hope that, even if they fail to pull off a shock win, they can at least steady the ship by putting in an 80-minute shift that can restore some of the squad’s battered pride.

By and large this means selecting the most battle-hardened pack available, and the most defensively solid back line. Experimentation and artistry can wait.

The National:

Following that logic at least, the front row should be Allan Dell, Fraser Brown and, fitness permitting, WP Nel. Jonny Gray and Grant Gilchrist are the best second-row combination, while a back row of Jamie Ritchie, Magnus Bradbury and Hamish Watson has the advantage of having played together for Edinburgh.

Captain Stuart Hogg should be joined in the back three by Sean Maitland and Blair Kinghorn, but the rest of the back line is a tougher call. On form, George Horne is slightly ahead of Ali Price in the race for the No 9 jersey, but is possibly best kept for later in the game when his broken-field sniping comes into its own. The form outside centre is Huw Jones, but Chris Harris is a better bet defensively and could get the nod to partner Sam Johnson.

As for stand-off, that is the one position where Townsend seems sure to go for greater creativity and opt for Adam Hastings rather than the recalled Duncan Weir. Plan A was to start with Russell and have Hastings on the bench, and it would seem a gratuitous vote of no confidence in the Glasgow man to leave him out of the starting line-up, even if Weir is a safer pair of hands.

But whoever is picked, the bottom line, surely, is that the team give a good account of themselves, win or lose. Three of the players who began the dismal World Cup defeat by Ireland have retired voluntarily; a repeat of that display would surely lead to the involuntary end of a few more international careers.

Scotland (17-16 winners over Ireland, 7 February 1998): Rowen Shepherd; Craig Joiner, Alan Tait, Gregor Townsend, Kenny Logan; Craig Chalmers, Gary Armstrong; George Graham, Gordon Bulloch, Mattie Stewart, Damian Cronin, Doddie Weir, Rob Wainwright, Simon Holmes, Peter Walton. Subs used: Derrick Lee, Tony Stanger, David Hilton, Stuart Grimes.