Scotland: Dark Horses at the World Cup?

Scotland had a very mixed Six Nations a loss to France were offset by an impressive win over Italy and that frantic draw against England. It was hard to gauge where Scotland are under Gregor Townsend as well with many of Scotland’s star players absent for at least some of the Six Nations.

Scotland face a fairly tricky pool with Ireland, hosts Japan, physical Samoa and minnows Russia.

Scotland do have the talent, Exeter bound Stuart Hogg is an excellent player, his broken field running, siege gunner boot and playmaking brain make him one of the best fullbacks currently playing international rugby.

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Credit: Instagram (stuarthogg21)

Alongside Hogg is Racing 92 playmaker, Finn Russell. Undeniably talented, his kicking out of hand is at times laser accurate, he is also quick for a fly-half and he has a talent for unlocking doors for his midfield at both Racing 92 and for Scotland.

The other outrageous talent in their backline is former Stormers centre, Huw Jones. This man single handedly dealt England a blow last year as Scotland made England look amateur at Murrayfield. His balanced running and upper body strength allow him to ride tackles and put Scotland on the front foot.

Credit: Instagram (@hrfjones)

In the forwards there is the younger of the Gray brothers, Jonny, a stoic leader and inspirational captain. His contribution to games is best summed up by one statistic from a Glasgow match last season in which the 25 year old made 41 successful tackles and missed none. 41 tackles in one match, that requires some engine.

Openside flanker, Hamish Watson is another one of Scotland’s diamonds in the rough. Watson combines all the traditional attributes of an openside with carrying of a number eight and the work rate of a blindside. There is marked difference to Scotland when the 25-cap Edinburgh back rower is playing.

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Credit: Instagram(hamishwatson07)

Now Scotland’s biggest test in the group stage will undoubtedly be the 22nd September meeting with Six Nations rivals, Ireland in Yokohama. Last time out Ireland beat Scotland 13-22 in the Six Nations outscoring Scotland three tries to one, although the Sam Johnson try was a very well worked one.

Ireland won for two reasons, an extreme effort from the Irish duo of Peter O’Mahony (man of the match) and Jack Conan who secured Ireland safe ball whilst causing Scotland’s ruck and maul all kinds of problems. The second was that in the opening quarter they caught Scotland cold, Conor Murray and Jacob Stockdale giving Ireland a 12-3 lead inside 17 minutes before fly-half, Jonny Sexton hobbled off in the 24th minute to be replaced by the excitable Joey Carbery.

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Credit: Instagram (@joeycarbery)

Scotland’s next biggest challenge will be their last game when they play Japan on 13th October again in Yokohama. This will be a challenge for two reasons, Japan are hosts and it comes just four days after Scotland’s tie with Russia whereas Japan will have had eight days to recover from their match with Samoa.

Scotland should be wise to the challenge Japan pose, England struggled to put away Japan at Twickenham way back at the end of last year until the second half, in the end English power prevailed. Japan though will be determined to make this the year they finally make it out of the pool stages in front of a home crowd which would be almost as shocking as their brutal dismantling of South Africa in Brighton four years ago.

Whilst Samoa will pose a physical challenge Scotland are firm favourites and against Russia it’s more of a question of by how much than who will win.

How Scotland Could Line-Up Against Ireland in Yokohama

1 Allan Dell (Irish) 2 Stuart McInally 3 Simon Berghan (both Edinburgh) 4 Sam Skinner (Exeter) 5 Jonny Gray 6 Ryan Wilson (both Glasgow) 7 Hamish Watson (Edinburgh) 8 Josh Strauss (Bulls)

9 Ali Price (Glasgow) 10 Finn Russell (Racing 92) 11 Sean Maitland (Saracens) 12 Sam Johnson 13 Huw Jones (both Glasgow) 14 Darcy Graham (Edinburgh) 15 Stuart Hogg (Exeter)

16 Fraser Brown (Glasgow) 17 Jamie Bhatti 18 WP Nel 19 Ben Toolis 20 John Barclay (all Edinburgh) 20 Greig Laidlaw (Clermont) 22 Adam Hastings (Glasgow) 23 Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh)

Should England Copy Wallaby Blueprint?

Australia despite being in limbo at the moment still have one extremely powerful weapon in there slowly decreasing arsenal. That is the back row double act of Michael Hooper and David Pocock.

Having two specialist openside flankers allows you a certain dominance at the breakdown. Both Pocock and Hooper are very good on the floor.

After years of having searched for a high quality, top class seven two have come along at once for England, Tom Curry and Sam Underhill.

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Credit: Instagram (@thomascurry_7)

Now in the back row it is fair to say that Billy Vunipola is almost certain to start at number eight for England in the World Cup the starting berth on the blindside is by no means nailed down which could open the door for England to copy the Australian model.

Using both expert pilferer Tom Curry and physical defender Sam Underhill could help lift England’s game to the next level and provide England’s backs with even quicker ball and possibly more chance and when you have the finishing ability of Henry Slade and Jonny May in your team the tries will come.

Tom Curry was England’s best player in the Six Nations. He offered himself up to carry, defended extremely well and was a nuisance at the breakdown, in essence he did the basics of being an openside flanker extremely well. At just 21 years of age the younger of the Curry twins (only be 90 minutes) has the potential to get even better and challenge the very best the game has to offer.

One performance thats sums up what Sam Underhill is all about is the excellent display he put on against New Zealand. Not only was his physical defence on full display, his breakdown expertise was put to good use and he turned Hurricanes star Beauden Barrett inside out (word has it Barrett is still searching for Underhill).

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Credit: Instagram (@samunderhill)

Coupling the insatiable appetite for turnovers of Tom Curry and the physical dominance of Sam Underhill could cause the very best back rows (Australia amongst them) some serious problems.

Total Recall for Argentina’s European Stars as World Cup Looms

Argentina will be able to select their European based players for the World Cup and with their group rivals being England and France these players could not only arrive with their considerable talent but also inside information on their teammates.

Here we look at the three main contenders to return to the blue and white stripes of their homeland when the World Cup kicks off.

  1. Santiago Cordero

This man was a magician in 2015 tearing up the opposition with his incisive breaks, elusive swerves and out and out pace. Since then he has been doing much the same and has been a real fan favourite at Sandy Park for Premiership leaders, Exeter Chiefs.

Argentina will be keen to get this man back in the team and on the ball. Cordero is a dangerous man, give him an inch and he’ll take a mile. His trickery is no longer the secret it was to most of the world back in 2015.

2. Facundo Isa

The Toulon back row is best known for his barnstorming carries. Isa has such power, you have to brave man to try and take this man high. Isa is equally at home powering over players as using his deceptive pace to blast through a weak inside shoulder.

His versatility and ability to play across the back row is also a huge benefit for a World Cup squad, Isa could be a very important part of Argentina’s World Cup jigsaw.

3. Nicolas Sanchez

The all-time leading point scorer for Argentina has never missed a squad but is currently plying his trade for Parisian club, Stade Francais who he joined after last year’s Rugby Championship. His definitely Argentina’s most important playmaker and this makes him very valuable for Argentina.

Sanchez is arguably Argentina’s best player and his presence will lift Argentina to new heights. His kicking game and pace put him on a par with some of Europe’s best fly-halves, with Sanchez in their ranks they have every chance of reaching the quarter-finals for the fourth World Cup in a row.

Argentina’s u-turn gives them a fighting chance in the upcoming World Cup. These stars are certainly ones to watch out for when Argentina take on England, France, Tonga and the USA over the course of the next autumn.

Crusaders v Hurricanes: Three Key Battles

This weekend presents us with one of the most enticing Super Rugby clashes as the champions, Crusaders take on the exciting Hurricanes.

Crusaders are favourites playing at home and with the Hurricanes missing star All Black, Beauden Barrett who only returned to training on Monday.

  1. Jordan Taufua v Reed Prinsep

Two very talented players match up in this crunch tie. Jordan Taufua is set to be New Zealand’s next import to England with Leicester Tigers snapping up the flanker.

Taufua’s most high profile appearance to date was when the Barbarians played South Africa at Wembley in 2016, the game ending in a 31-31 draw.

For Reed Prinsep this will be somewhat a homecoming considering he played his NPC rugby for Canterbury. Prinsep is less experienced than Taufua at Super Rugby level but certainly has the pace and physicality to match the rampaging Crusader.

2. Richie Mo’unga v Fletcher Smith

The Crusaders fly-half was the in-form player at the end of last season as he guided his team to a second successive title under Scott Robertson. Mo’unga’s kicking skills and game management earned him his first All Black call-up.

For Fletcher Smith this will be a tough one, the 23 year old has just one Super Rugby appearance to his name and Beuaden Barrett’s boots are big ones to fill for the youngster.

It will be interesting to see if the young ten can hold his own against one of the best players in the league in this high pressure, high stakes game.

3. Matt Todd v Dane Coles

Not a positional battle but the two captains will be going head to head. Matt Todd is one of the less celebrated Crusaders players who has been pivotal for his franchises success. He is a traditional open side, strong at the breakdown and a master on the floor. Todd leads by example and he’ll need to inspire his team to beat a very competent Hurricanes outfit.

This is some test of Coles leadership, the hooker is brilliant. Just exceptional at his best, he runs well, tackles physically and leads exceptionally.

It will be interesting to see which captain plays to the referee early on as that could effect how the game is played.

This will be a close one and definitely one of the biggest games this season. Two franchises that are sure to have play-off ambitions for the end of the season.

Have England Finally Found Their First XV?

England’s win over Ireland was by some way the best performance of the weekend. Ferocious line speed, ruthless attack and brutal physicality whilst executing the perfectly formulated gameplay was enough for England win 32-20 and take the full five points in Dublin.

England have long been searching for their best team. The centre has been a particular area of concern even with Owen Farrell being the first choice twelve for Eddie Jones at the start of his tenure it was only ever meant to be a stop gap until something better came along or in Manu Tuilagi’s case regain fitness.

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By George Olcott – Flickr: Seeing The Gap, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16995621

The axis of the powerful Manu Tuilagi and the playmaker Henry Slade worked perfectly. Tuilagi’s power was enough to keep the duo of Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose occupied defensively, and Henry Slade’s two try performance including the interception of Jonny Sexton’s pass to wrap up the bonus point was the best he’s ever played in the white of England.

In the back row Tom Curry came in for the injured Sam Underhill and there is a debate to be had about who offers more. Both are young, traditional open side flankers, they will likely be battling it out to be England’s first choice for years to come but the Ireland performance would suggest it’s advantage Curry.

Alongside Curry was the return of Saracens number eight Billy Vunipola. The rampaging back rower makes such a difference to England he’s on another level to Nathan Hughes and Mark Wilson who took up the mantle for England’s autumn campaign.

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By Charlie from UK – IMG_4726Uploaded by stemoc, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28727588

Vunipola adds that carrying ability that is so important for forwards in the modern game. You would not want to be the player having to drag down 130 kilo behemoth.

On the blindside was Mark Wilson who was the standout for England against South Africa and Australia in the autumn. His hard work and tireless effort make him the player every team needs. He offers much more than Wasps New Zealand import Brad Shields who has barely got out of second gear since arriving in Coventry.

The final position there was doubt over was Elliot Daly, many including us here at Rugby360 were expecting to see Mike Brown start against Ireland to diffuse the expected aerial bombardment of the half backs Conor Murray and Sexton.

Daly was exceptional. He was excellent in the air. Daly did miss one important catch in the second half but other than that he was masterful.

Daly is quick, has good footballing ability and there is no other kicker in world rugby that you would want stepping up to nail a long range penalty.

Eddie Jones may have finally found his best XV with just months until World Cup, have England timed their run to 2019 to perfection? Jones will certainly hope so and a win over France at Twickenham on Sunday would be a massive step towards the Grand Slam in a World Cup year and the last time that happened well….a certain Jonny Wilkinson wrote himself in English rugby folklore.