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.

England: Five Players Who May Have Played Their Way Into World Cup Contention

England fielded a very inexperienced team with just 11 International caps between them as they ran out 51-43 winners at Twickenham against Pat Lam’s star studded Barbarians.

We take a look at the players we think have given Eddie Jones something to think about following a good performance at the weekend.

  1. Marcus Smith (Harlequins)

The 20 year old turned down a chance to play at the under-20 World Championships to play in the Quilter Cup game and he most certainly took his chance. Smith not only kicked flawlessly but picked up a try of his own and the Man of the Match award.

This boy can play. He showed his fast feet and awareness on many occasion to cause opposite number, 31 year old, 21 cap All Black Colin Slade some serious problems.

With Owen Farrell, George Ford and Danny Cipriani all in the mix for England selection it’s probably too soon for the Harlequins starlet but an assured performance at Twickenham is a big step in the right direction for his development as a future England regular.

2. Joe Marchant (Harlequins)

The Harlequins centre has been on the peripheries of the England discussion for years with his skills not dissimilar to those of Bath centre, Jonathan Joseph.

Marchant has some very impressive skills, his one handed pick up in the second half receiving the acknowledgment of the Twickenham crowd who let out a purr of appreciation for such a skill. He was also very keen to attack the outside shoulders.

A few very nice line breaks and good interplay with his centre partner, Johnny Williams, certainly in the mix for England who do look slightly light on centres compared to other positions.

3. Ben Curry (Sale Sharks)

Did much the same as his twin brother Tom was doing for England during the Six Nations. He was a nuisance at the breakdown and even for veterans like Steven Luatua and Francois Louw.

Curry was also a huge physical presence in defence and made some thundering tackles and hits, it was a very good open side flanker’s performance from Curry who goes about his work quietly and efficiently.

Ben Curry could join his brother in the England squad although with Sam Underhill also back playing it will be tough.

4. Alex Mitchell (Northampton Saints)

The young scrum-half has stuck behind a brilliant Cobus Reinach at Franklins Gardens this year but he showed Chris Boyd exactly what he could do against the Barbarians.

He distributed excellently dictating the pace and giving Marcus Smith the perfect platform to play off thanks to a strong performance from the forwards. He kicked well from the breakdown and looked very lively with the ball in hand.

Certainly one for the future, there are lots of good scrum-halves around at the minute an outside bet for the training squad.

5. Alex Dombrandt (Harlequins)

Another Harlequin who stood out for England. Dombrandt has been tearing up the Premiership all season with his surprising pace for a man of his size and his powerful runs.

He showed that against the Barbarians as he notched up a brace of tries with his abrasive powerful running. He was not shy of the ball and the occasion certainly didn’t overwhelm the blindside flanker.

The back row is a very competitive area for England and with experienced operators at six like Chris Robshaw and Mark Wilson will make it very difficult to get Alex Dombrandt anywhere near the squad that eventually flies to Japan.

England’s Back Row Conundrum

Heading into this year’s Six Nations England are still trying to figure out who their best bak rowers are and with Sam Underhill likely to be missing for at least their opening match against Ireland.

Billy Vunipola does return and he is most certainly nailed on as England’s number eight if he can stay fit. He looked powerful and robust on his return for Saracens and he took his try well.

At six for much of the autumn was former Hurricane, Brad Shields. He was solid but by no means exceptional and he’s barely played for his club Wasps since his move from New Zealand in the summer. England’s number eight from the autumn Mark Wilson is a natural blindside flanker.

Then there is the brilliant Alex Dombrandt who has been in exceptional form for Harlequins, this man has some pace on him and he knows how to use it. He could be a very good addition to Eddie Jones’ squad.

Courtney Lawes is of course an option in the back row and may be able to offset the physicality lost with the absence of Sam Underhill.

Talking of Sam Underhill who fills that void?

One option is Tom Curry from Sale, a very capable flanker and a good scavenger but he lacks the tackling power and all out strength of his Bath rival.

Tom Curry seems to be the only real option to replace Underhill unless England want to switch Wilson to the openside.

World XV: Part One

We at Rugby360 are passionate about rugby. Here is our Dream Team. Think you could do better, let us know in the comments.

1 Cian Healy (Ireland)

The Ireland prop was resurgent last season. At 31 he is in his prime for a prop, expect him to wrestle with Leinster teammate Jack McGrath for the starting berth in the green of Ireland. A monster in the scrum.

2 Malcolm Marx (South Africa)

The most dynamic hooker in world rugby. This season he has also improved his set piece game one hundred times over. One to watch this autumn.

3 Tadhg Furlong (Ireland)

Massive for the Lions and he is continuing to improve. Furlong is redefining the role of a tighthead prop. Nobody can match the Irish prop for all round ability.

4 Brodie Retallick (New Zealand)

This man could probably play lock, flanker, centre or out on the wing. He’s quick, powerful, dominant in the lineout. The best second row in the world, a formidable partner to Sam Whitelock.

5 Maro Itoje (England)

Too good to leave out. He was a bit lacklustre for England last term but in his early season games for Saracens he certainly looks to have his swagger back. A future England captain in the making.

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By Clément Bucco-Lechat – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46847620

6 Peter O’Mahony (Ireland)

Hugely influential for both his province and country. O’Mahony is great on the floor almost like a second openside but works so hard in the loose too. A real leader.

7 David Pocock (Australia)

The greatest openside in the game. Unrivalled at the breakdown, the turnover king. Pocock has all the attributes needed to be one of the best opensides of all time. Not as quick as Hooper, Todd or Kolisi but so much better in every other department.

8 Kieran Read (New Zealand)

Lucky that Billy Vunipola has had his share of injuries. Read is the quintessential All Black. Gives his all on the field, never settles for second best, a testament to the longevity of the All Blacks and an asset to any team.

There are our forwards picks! Stay tuned for our backs tomorrow!