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)

Opinion: Bath Should Break the Bank to Land Pollard

Bath Rugby will be losing Wales veteran, Rhys Priestland at the end of the season, and with just two specialist fly-halves contracted for next season Bath have been linked with three high profile names to replace the outgoing ten.

South African Handre Pollard, 50 cap All Black Aaron Cruden and most recently Gareth Anscombe.

It’s been a while since Bath had a clear first choice fly-half with the shirt being shared between the departing Priestland and Freddie Burns as Bath have lingered in mid-table and failed to live up to any sort of hype.

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By Stemoc – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49998625

If Bath are serious about competing for the title Handre Pollard is their only option. The 24 year old international would be unavailable for the start of each season as he fulfilled commitments in South Africa but the quality he would provide for he rest of the season would offset this.

Pollard has kicked well in the past, a vital part of any fly-halves game, kicks can win games. Pollard would provide a safe pair of hands in that department.

Can you imagine the havoc Girvan Dempsey could cause if Blackadder handed him a resource like the Bulls star? Pollard is very good in attack, a master, he has pace and his passing game and playmaking ability make him dangerous, Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel thrive outside him for South Africa. If he can replicate that with Bath’s selection of senior centres it could really set their game alight.

Pollard also is a strong defender, he doesn’t miss many tackles and he’s a physical tackler. Defence has been a focus for Premiership teams over the past years with the majority clubs seeing how well basing success on defence has worked for the ever improving Saracens.

The final thing that sets Pollard apart from Cruden and Anscombe is his age. Pollard is 24, three years younger than Ansombe and six years younger than Cruden.

The Springbok playmaker has his best years ahead of him.

South Africa are determined to keep him at home but with Bath’s large cash reserves, if they really want him they should be able to get him.

Our opinion, Bath should do whatever it takes to make him theirs next season.

Are Gloucester Genuine Contenders?

For years Gloucester struggled finding themselves in the bottom half of the table, this year is different. In their second season under former Lions boss Johan Ackermann they are in the top four and seem to be in with a chance of making the play-offs.

The squad is stronger now than it was, that is partly down to the arrival of fly-half, Danny Cipriani. He has been the in-form stand-off in the Premiership. His attacking play and playmaking ability make him one of the most exciting players to watch.

With his ability to create space and their pace out wide make the Gloucester backline and extremely potent weapon. They also have the luxury to employ a second playmaker in a reinvigorated Billy Twelvetrees which as we have seen with England and the Lions can reap enormous benefits.

The South African head coach has also looked at his home country to bolster the ranks in the pack. Ruan Dreyer, Franco Mostert, Ruan Ackermann, Franco Marais, Gerbrandt Grobler, Jaco Kriel and Jaco Visagie all joining over last two seasons making a previously shaky forward pack into an altogether more fearsome unit.

Gloucester have also benefitted from not having loads of international stars, that is the double edged sword of having internationals, the benefit of having the best talent in the world at your disposal but losing that talent for large portions of the season.

Not having the core of their squad leave has allowed them to build combinations and consistency within their squad. This builds a settled squad that understand each other and understand the systems that Ackermann is implementing.

They are contenders. They are dangerous and the league would do well to be wary of what Ackermann is building in the deepest, darkest corner of the west country.