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)

World Cup Countdown: State of Play

We’ve seen a great autumn of rugby so far including the dramatic ending to England’s victory over South Africa, Wales’ 74 point rout of Tonga and Ireland defeating New Zealand for the second time in three games.

With one week left and just under a year before the World Cup we take a look at the contenders for next year’s showpiece event.

New Zealand are still top of the tree despite their loss to Ireland but their position looks less stable than it has in recent years. South Africa and Ireland have beaten them, England ran them extremely close as did South Africa in the second leg of their Rugby Championship tie.

Steven Hansen was quick to label Ireland favourites for the World Cup but I think it’s safe to say New Zealand will still be fancied by the bookmakers to claim their fourth World Cup title.

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By Government of NZ – http://gg.govt.nz/content/mike-eagle-christchurch-onzm-services-rugby, CC BY 3.0 nz, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=59328418

Rassie Erasmus is doing a terrific job with South Africa, they defeated England 2-1 in the June test series which is a massive boost. Siya Kolisi is magnificent captain and with the dangerous duo on the wings of Sbu Nkosi and Aphiwe Dyantyi have emerged as two of the most in-form wings in the world maybe just behind Jacob Stockdale and Rieko Ioane.

Their narrow loss to England showed they do have some weaknesses, despite Malcolm Marx’s work in the loose he is still unreliable at the set piece, his lineout issues at Twickenham handed the second half initiative to England as they trusted in Owen Farrell’s boot to guide them to victory.

Ireland, all conquering in the 2018 Six Nations which was followed up by a series win over a very disappointing Australia outfit before swiftly dispatching of Argentina and then dismantling New Zealand. Johnny Sexton is a remarkable player, he directs play, Beuaden Barrett got taught a real lesson in Dublin.

Peter O’Mahony he stops at nothing to deliver the win, tenacious, hard working and physical. Tadhg Furlong is the best tighthead prop going, you can argue all you want it won’t change fact that he is tremendous. Joe Schmidt has taken his time moulding Ireland into the team he wants them to be.

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By Warwick Gastinger – Rugby World Cup 2015 DSCN4929, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43622816

Schmidt has built a group that knows what it feel like to win, they know how to win, they certainly have the credentials to be crowned champions in Japan. That is if they get past New Zealand.

Their Celtic cousins Wales have had a great November series, they started it off with a free flowing, open win over Scotland in Cardiff. They then scraped past Australia before expertly punishing Tonga by scoring loads of tries.

Warren Gatland now has a group of players from the Scarlets that love to attack, gone are the days of ‘Warrenball’, Gareth Anscombe is transforming the backline, he’s fast, skilful and can expertly manage a game.

Then there Is England. People may laugh after the year they’ve had but the world should be wary of Eddie Jones’ charges. The writing seemed to be on the wall this autumn, but England roared back into life despite it taking them 40 minutes to get into the South Africa test.

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By DIALLO 25 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=57847156

They gave New Zealand one hell of a game, make no mistake they rattled Hansen’s cage, the Six Nations opener against Ireland is going to be an amazing game. Owen Farrell is leading the charge and they’ve finally found an openside in Sam Underhill and Tom Curry isn’t far behind.

There we have it the five frontrunners just under a year out from the World Cup. New Zealand leading the charge but the others aren’t far behind.