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)

Potential XV for Gatland’s 2021 Tour

The British & Irish Lions will be coached by Warren Gatland for a third successive time when they tour South Africa. The tour is still two years away and there is a lot of rugby to be played between then and now including the Rugby World Cup and two Six Nations championships and both Ireland and Wales will definitely have new head coaches after the World Cup and Eddie Jones’ future following the World Cup is unclear.

We take a very early look at who could start the first test in South Africa two years from now.

  1. Mako Vunipola (England)

Arguably the best loosehead prop in the world and a key part of the extremely successful Saracens side. Works hard in the loose and over the last couple of seasons has greatly improved his set piece. He will be 30 when the tour rolls around.

2. Jamie George (England)

He has taken full advantage of Dylan Hartley’s absence this season and cemented himself as England’s first choice and will probably retain the shirt for the World Cup. Another powerhouse in the loose. He will also be 30 for the next tour.

3. Tadhg Furlong (Ireland)

A very good prop. Excellent in the set piece and useful in the loose. Ireland and Leinster rely so heavily on him and he performed well in New Zealand two years ago. He is the youngest of this front row and will be 28 with his best prop years ahead of him for 2021.

4. Maro Itoje (England)

This man still has the chants of “Oh Maro Itoje” ringing in his ears from that famous night in Wellington. Undoubtedly world class and a potential captain for both his country, England and he is still improving all the time. He will be in his prime at 26 for the next tour.

USO - Saracens - 20151213 - Maro Itoje
USO – Saracens – 20151213 – Maro Itoje

5. James Ryan (Ireland)

He has been the standout performer in the Champions Cup and greatly impressed on the international stage having emerged as a key man for Ireland. His age gives him the edge over the older Alun Wyn Jones. He will be just 24.

6. Peter O’Mahony (Captain, Ireland)

Our pick to captain our potential side. A key cog in Munster’s excellent European campaign as they went all the way to the semi-final before being knocked out by Saracens. Physical and inspirational. He will be the other side of 30, at 31 years of age in two years time.

7. Tom Curry (England)

England’s standout man during the Six Nations and he has continued that form for his club, Sale Sharks. Very good at the breakdown both winning turnovers for his side and slowing the ball down for the opposition. And he certainly has age on his side, the youngest pick so far he will be just 22.

8. Billy Vunipola (England)

A fourth Saracen in Anglo-Irish pack. Vunipola carries very well using his powerful leg drive and big frame. A competent defender and an explosive force from the base of the scrum. He will be two years younger than his brother and 28 for the South Africa tour.

9. Conor Murray (Ireland)

An all court scrum-half, the best box kicking scrum-half in the world and has the height and strength that Gatland values. He has become a leader for Munster and should be a valuable deputy to his fellow Munsterman O’Mahony in South Africa. He will be 32.

10. Owen Farrell (England)

It’s no contest, Farrell has proved over the past few years that he is a class act. A metronome off the tee, a good defensive leader and has the big game experience with both Saracens and England to make him world class. He will still be under 30 at 29 years of age in South Africa.

USO - Saracens - 20151213 - Owen Farrell
By Clément Bucco-Lechat – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46847661

11. Liam Williams (Wales)

The first Welshman on the list. Liam Williams has come on leaps and bounds since joining Saracens (are you starting to spot a theme?) unflappable in the air and quick enough to trouble defenders when he counter attacks. He will be 30 when Warren Gatland names his team.

12. Huw Jones (Scotland)

The Scottish centre is more of a natural 13 but could definitely slot in at 12. He’s a powerful runner and has the upper body strength to beat any weak, high tackles. Having that power and explosiveness allow him to open holes in midfield. He will be 27 for the next tournament and therefore gets in ahead of that will be a 31 year old Hadleigh Parkes.

13. Jonathan Davies (Wales)

One of Wales’ best players during their current 14 match unbeaten run, he was also key for the Lions in New Zealand. No doubt one of the British Isles most potent, attacking threats, he has the pace and defends well enough to fill the 13 jersey. He will be 33.

14. Jonny May (England)

Out and out pace. He has matured greatly over the past two to three years and his finishing ability make him a match winner. May has become better in the air and improved his positioning. He would be given plenty of opportunities with the Jones-Davies combination inside him. He will be 31.

15. Stuart Hogg (Scotland)

Injury robbed the brilliant Scot from playing on the 2017 tour. Still very much one of Scotland’s biggest stars and most exciting players. Pace and a wicked step make him a pushing attacker and he competes out lethal back three. He has been around a while but will be just 28 for the 2021 tour.

There we have it England lead the way with seven players, five of them being Saracens. Ireland have four players and Scotland and Wales have two each.

Who would you have in your team? Let us know in the comments section.