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)

Wales Warm-Up Could Give England Outsiders a Chance to Prove a Point

England’s first test of the summer against Wales is a golden opportunity for England to try out their fringe players and give the outsiders a chance to press a claim for inclusion in Eddie’s final squad of 31 that will play in Japan.

  1. Joe Marler

The Harlequins man returns from international retirement and the match against Wales is the perfect place to start staking a claim for that starting berth in Japan whilst current holder Mako Vunipola is out injured. It will also be interesting to see how long Marler lasts playing at test match level intensity.

2. Jack Singleton

England are likely to take three hookers to Japan and with Dylan Hartley not considered Singleton is likely to travel, he will need some minutes under his belt before arriving in Japan. Playing at a stadium like Twickenham against a team like Wales is the perfect audition.

3. Kyle Sinckler

More of a first choice name. He has been very good for England since the Lions tour but there are still questions over his temperament, if he can keep his cool in the red hot atmosphere of an England v Wales fixture he can probably keep a cool head anywhere.

4. Joe Launchbury

The athletic lock will need to lay down a marker to the other three established locks of the group (Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Courtney Lawes). If he can play some of his best rugby combining his relentless work with the athleticism that sets him apart he will be on that plane.

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Credit: Instagram (@joe_launch)

5. Charlie Ewels

An outside bet for this position. Ewels is a talented man and his opportunities for England have been few and far between but definitely a player that could prove a point. He is a strong leader and a very good lineout technician.

6. Alex Dombrandt

The young back row had an excellent season for the London based Harlequins, he also played really well in England’s annual runout against the Barbarians. He showed his pace and power in a typical all-action blindside flanker’s performance.

7. Lewis Ludlam

The openside has been involved in all the World Cup camps and is the dark horse to make the final cut. Northampton have really got the best out of him this season and for him to be pushing standout players like Tom Curry and Sam Underhill for a place is a real testament to the form he was in.

8. Mark Wilson

Whilst Wilson is preferred at six with just one specialist number eight in the squad it makes sense to try out another option there and Mark Wilson is the only other player than Billy Vunipola that has played there at international level. It’s good to have all bases covered heading into a World Cup.

9. Ben Spencer

The Saracens man is still extremely light on international minutes and with Spencer and Heinz both likely to be deputising for Ben Youngs in Japan much like Jack Singleton, being part of the squad and playing in these high intensity matches are so important.

10. Danny Cipriani

It’s about time. Danny is back in the England squad. Everyone wants to see him start, we all know what Owen Farrell and George Ford can do. Now let’s sit back and enjoy watching Danny Cipriani wearing the white of England.

11. Ruaridh McConnochie

One of the signings of the season for Bath Rugby. The former sevens man has certainly made his mark even edging out another international in Semesa Rokoduguni in starting for his club. McConnochie’s pace is one thing, he also is good in the air and is explosively powerful.

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Credit: Instagram (@ruaridhmcc)

12. Manu Tuilagi

It will be exciting to see what havoc this man can cause playing off Cipriani. England have a few options in the centre but Tuilagi is by far the most powerful. This is game where power will be important.

13. Jonathan Joseph

He hasn’t played much for Bath so it would be good to see if he is test match ready. If he is ready he offers a different approach to both of England’s leading men Tuilagi and Slade. He has electric pace and is one of the best in his position defensively.

14. Anthony Watson

Like his club mate Joseph has had very little game time this season and hasn’t played for England since the 2018 Six Nations. Watson is equally at home at fullback but if Watson is up to the levels Eddie Jones expects then England’s back three can add this Lion into the mix.

15. Mike Brown

Leapfrogged by Elliot Daly as England’s leading fullback but still has so much to offer and could be key for England’s chances. A safe pair of hands in the air and his cannon of a boot make him England’s Mr Reliable which is far more complimentary than the Mr Angry tag he has been lumbers with in the past.