Scotland know forwards will need to get upper hand in Ireland showdown

Gregor Townsend has a talented backline at his disposal but their pack will need to work hard to release them

Gregor Townsend was asked after his Scotland team put on 84 points against Romania how Ireland would be affected by previous World Cup exits. He kicked to touch.

“I am not going to answer that question,” said Townsend. “Ireland are the number one team in the world, they are on the back of 16 [consecutive] wins so I’m sure they aren’t thinking about what has happened in previous tournaments. They have got a lot of confidence in how they have played over the last two or three years and they’ll take a lot of confidence from the last game, they managed to get a win there [South Africa match].”

After days of avoiding the Irish question, Scotland can now pivot to a match that will likely decide who goes through to the quarter-final, although those players who were not involved against Romania over the weekend had already turned their attentions to all things Ireland last week.

The way Scotland see it, the Ireland game is a hit out, a one-off for a team that “have had definite growth” and who “believe in their game and how they play” it since the sides last met in this year’s Six Nations Championship, when Ireland won 22-7.


Scotland will look to their opening try in that game from Huw Jones after 16 minutes, converted by Finn Russell, which gave them a brief lead before Mack Hansen, James Lowe and Jack Conan weighed in with match-winning scores.

If momentum was what Scotland were looking for, Romania gave them that. But there’s no rush to compare a 12-try mauling with the challenge Ireland will present on Saturday.

“Well, look at the performances of the boys over the last few years and you are dead right to say we haven’t knocked over Ireland, but there is always a first time and it would be special to do it at the weekend,” said Steve Tandy, the Scotland defence coach. “Look, I think it’s about focusing on ourselves and who we are. It will be an unbelievable opportunity in the World Cup to play Ireland and it will be an amazing atmosphere.

“You’ve got massive respect for what they do and what they have done. Obviously, an amazing run, well coached, great players, well organised. But we believe in ourselves. Like I said, we are excited about the opportunity and going out there to play our game and how we want to do it. We know it’s going to be a real tough challenge against Ireland. That’s why it’s the World Cup. This is where you need to be and you got to knock over the big teams.”

Scotland have beaten Ireland only twice since 2012. They won in Edinburgh in 2013 and again in 2017, Ireland winning 13 matches in that time span, including the last eight. Scotland know exactly how Ireland will play, it’s whether they can match them or not.

The first pressure point will be the breakdown, which Scotland have to contest to bring their talented backline players into the match. Ireland have an advantage with their forwards and Scotland remain unclear about the head injury their captain and flanker Jamie Richie picked up against Tonga.

“It is going to be so tough,” said Scotland backrow Hamish Watson. “They are looking very good, number one team in the world and quite rightly so as they’ve been playing well for two years or even longer now. But a lot of the pressure will be on them. They’ll be expected to win, which is how we like it sometimes as well. We’ll prep well this week.

“We have got those games in our locker and we can beat those top teams. But we’ll have to play incredibly well. It will be a hell of a day if we can get it done.

“They played amazing to beat South Africa. But we know if we can deal with Ireland up front and if our forward pack can front up at the set-piece and be as physical as possible, then we can unleash some really dangerous backs, which is very different to a few years ago.

“We have got some great backs who can do anything. You saw that tonight with Darcy [Graham]. He scored some great tries but we have got a lot of other players who can do that as well.”

Graham may be one of those players who has pushed for wing inclusion this week with Duhan van der Merwe a certain starter. Townsend’s side are likely to need to beat Andy Farrell’s side and deny them a bonus point.

The Romania match ended only five points short of their biggest ever World Cup win over Ivory Coast in 1995. They will take from that what they can with Ireland knowing it’s a different Scottish side, at least in character and confidence.

Townsend made 13 changes to the starting line-up for the Romanian game, with a similar number of changes likely when he names the side to play Ireland on Thursday. Scotland reported no serious injury to any of their players with captain Richie continuing to be monitored.

“The boys are still getting assessed,” said Tandy. “They are in recovery and probably a bit more feedback later today. But at the minute yeah, all seems well.”

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times