STUART McInally says he is bracing himself for Scotland’s biggest challenge of the NatWest 6 Nations against Ireland this weekend.

The front-row Edinburgh forward worked harder than most to achieve the victories over France and England that have revived the country’s Championship bid but knows that might not be enough against Joe Schmidt’s side.

“We are under no illusion that this will be our hardest challenge yet,” was his description of the prospect of travelling to Dublin to meet unbeaten Ireland who have emerged as title favourites following Scotland’s defeat of England, the champions of the last two years, before going on to explain why he believes that is the case.

“The strength they have all across the park. They are so well coached by Joe Schmidt and have had real consistency for a number of years. They pride themselves on their contact work and their physicality and that is something we have to be ready for.

“Their accuracy is brilliant. We had a look at their stuff this morning. They make a lot of metres because they look after the ball. Their carries a lot of the time are twice as many as the opposition.”

That reflects an understanding that any time Scotland give possession to their opponents they may have to wait a great deal of time before getting it back and since defence is, both physically and psychologically, generally considered to be harder work than attack, that suggests McInally is right to anticipate an even tougher shift this time around, but the former back-row forward is ready for that.

“Compared to my fitness last year I feel I am night and day ahead of where I was,” he said. “I am much more up to speed for Test match pace. Before I was coming off the bench after being on the bench for Edinburgh all year.

“I do feel I can cope with the speed of it now [and] it is nice to be on at that final whistle, especially when you win and last week was so special. Hopefully I can show the coaches I can keep going for 80 minutes and it is not the classic 60 minutes. As long as I am contributing on the pitch I will stay on.”

He said that had not been expressly conveyed to him in so many words by the management and is just an impression he had developed that has been borne out by the events of those last two matches.

“That message hasn’t really been hammered to me, it’s more just a feeling I got that if I’m playing well I’m going to stay on,” McInally noted.

There are obvious advantages to having first choice players in key roles who can stay on the pitch for the full match, but McInally also made it clear that there could be no question of seeking to pace himself since it is vital to throw everything at the opposition from the outset.

If anything that is even more important away from home, as they discovered in Cardiff at the beginning of the campaign, as he also acknowledged ahead of what is a vital match as Scotland seek they can perform on the road, but McInally believes the squad is set to improve on an abysmal record of having won just six away matches in Six Nations history, four of those in Rome.

“I am not too worried that it is an away form thing. We are well into this competition and have a clear strategy to go over there and win,” he said.

“There is no doubt in our minds we can go over there and win (and) doing it over there will be special knowing how important a win would be for us and what a win would do for us. We are putting all our efforts into this one game and will see where it takes us (but) we are in a great position in the table.

“I think the players definitely took a lot of confidence from winning in Australia last year. It was a big team to turn over away from home… knowing it can be done. It’s the same size rugby pitch and it’s 15 on 15, it’s just how you can control your emotion and not let any external factors get the better of you. It’s something we’ll get better at as we go on.”