Bullish Scotland primed to take Ireland and Rugby World Cup by storm
Ireland’s opening match opponents believe they have what it takes to go all the way
Scotland’s Greig Laidlaw poses for photos with fans during a training session ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Photo: Tsuyoshi Ueda/Kyodo News via AP
Defence wins World Cups. We can win the World Cup. The chance to catch Ireland comes in Yokohama. This is Scotland. This is Stuart Hogg reaching for the stars.
The audio needed replaying to be sure this dazzling running back said what he said.
“The quality and standards in training are right up there with the best I have been involved in,” Hogg began. “We feel we are in a good place but we are here to do a job – that begins by getting our campaign off to a great start by beating Ireland.
“Defensively we have to be spot on. We believe defence will win World Cups and it’s something we have been working incredibly hard on it since we came together in June.”
Scotland’s best player sounds awfully like Felipe Contepomi in 2007. Are they Los Pumas of 2019?
“We are across the other side of the world without our friends or our family so we have very much talked about being our own family within the squad, to make this experience as enjoyable as we possibly can.
“The boys are having fun on and off the field but we are making sure we get ourselves in the best frame of mind and best physical condition to win a World Cup.”
Hogg dares to dream as much as Irish sound bites are taking it “game by game, day by day, moment to moment.”
“If there is a time to take on Ireland I believe it is now,” said Hogg. “Before they get up a head of steam.”
Perhaps this time spent in each other’s company in their Minato City enclave, up a hill around a bend, has the Scots so chilled.
“I feel quite often nowadays the night before the game I sleep the best because you have done all your work and you can go off to bed with not much to worry about,” said Peter Horne. “It’s not often you get two weeks to build up and focus on a specific game. We still have done a lot of preparation but most of the graft is done.
“Not long until the shackles are off.”
Hogg fully expects Andrew Conway to line up as his opposite number on Sunday with Jordan Larmour replacing Keith Earls on the right wing.
“Ireland have some incredible players ... if Kearney is to be out and Conway is to come that is another world class player that we have got to be fully aware of.”
Does the absence of Kearney’s innate ability to cover the back field factor into how the Scottish play makers will seek to expose Ireland?
“There is a lot of different parts to the puzzle and without giving too much away we will just concentrate on ourselves, and making sure we don’t beat ourselves by making silly errors. We might get five or six opportunities to put some points on the board and we got to make sure we make the most of every single opportunity we are given.”
When the confirmed absence of Robbie Henshaw was put to Horne, the Glasgow centre instantly leaned towards Garry Ringrose replacing his Leinster teammate at outside centre with Bundee Aki in the 12 jersey.
“Obviously [Henshaw] is a great player,” said Horne. “Such a good defender and really good going forward too. They lose one but Ringrose is coming in. He is awesome. Such a good attacker, also a really smart defender. I have a lot of respect for him.
“It changes the dynamic a little bit. Henshaw and Aki are really powerful whereas Ringose is really, really good on the outside break and he’s got great feet coming back. He’s quite often involved in their trick plays.”
Gregor Townsend’s backs are clearly well versed in the ways of Joe Schmidt’s Ireland, but what about their South African props? When Willem Petrus Nell and Allan Dell, Johnny Sexton’s punisher at Murrayfield, were finished joking with the travelling media they fielded questions on the prospect of facing an Ireland front row of Cian Healy, Rory Best and Tadhg Furlong.
Nell: “We play them in Pro 14, in the Six Nations so we basically know each other but, ya, we have a good pack as well. It will be a real battle.”
The lineout should be a decisive area presuming James Ryan is partnered by Iain Henderson in the second row and a returning backrow of Peter O’Mahony, Josh van der Flier and CJ Stander.
Dell: “We’ve done well in recent times against them in set piece. It’s just about being switched on the whole time but when you have the old man Willem Petrus beside you it makes it very easy.”
More laughter, easy living. Scotland are primed.