As I write this the Japan-Russia opening match of Rugby World Cup 2019 has just finished and the excitement is building ahead of Sunday’s other match in Pool A when Scotland take on Ireland.
When the teams last met in the Six Nations in February, Ireland came out on top 22-13, but a lot of water has gone under the bridge since then.
Ireland are now the world’s number one side with Scotland seventh, here I take a look at five talking points ahead of the big clash in Yokohama.
Five talking points
Can Scotland match the Irish at scrum time?
The Irish front-row of Cian Healy, captain Rory Best and Tadhg Furlong is up there with the best in the world and they have 247 points between them.
They usually give their side a good foothold in matches and Scotland’s starting trio of Allan Dell, skipper Stuart McInally and WP Nel will have to be at their best to match them.
The forwards behind he front-row will also have a big part to play in helping out those three – who have 85 caps between them – and the battle between Healy and Nel will be a fascinating one in particular.
Will Wilson be the ball carrier at No.8 that the Scots need?
Ryan Wilson has been given the nod at No.8 ahead of Blade Thomson – and the Scots need him to carry hard.
They also need him to mix it with the Irish which should not be a problem for him!
Asked recently whether there is any love lost between the seventh and third ranked sides in the world, Wilson replied: “No there isn’t – and I quite enjoy it!
“There is a good edge there with Ireland, but that is what makes these games exciting and they are always physical games against Ireland so this one is going to be a really physical and a tough one.”
Finn on fire?
There is no doubt that Finn Russell is a far better player than he was during the last World Cup in 2015, in fact he is a much better player since this time last year.
The move to France with Racing 92 has seen him add balance to his game and he knows when to keep things tight from stand-off or when to throw the ball wide.
He has excellent communicators either side of him in Greig Laidlaw and Sam Johnson while the latter runs some great lines and Russell is going to have to make sure he hits those bursts from the centre to get over the gain line.
Johnson and Taylor so important
They only started their first Test together a couple of weeks ago against Georgia, but there is no doubt that centres Sam Johnson and Duncan Taylor are now two of the first names on the Scots ‘first choice’ team sheet.
As mentioned above, Johnson runs great lines while outside him Taylor is one of the most intelligent players around. Their defensive solidy will also be key in this match with the Irish back-row and Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose likely to run at them hard and straight in the midfield area.
Taylor covered so much ground versus Georgia, let’s hope for more of the same on Sunday.
Bench just not for splinters
Gone are the days of the XV man game, the seven replacements in each team, or ‘finishers’ as some like to call them, will have a massive part to play in the outcome.
That is especially the case in the heat of Japan and the Scottish bench members have to be ready to come on and make a big impact.
Three players who I am looking forward to seeing come on in the second half should the game require their input are Blade Thomson, Ali Price and Darcy Graham.
The former is a strong carrier and makes a lot of tackles while the latter duo have the pace and speed of thought that could just catch the well-organised Irish defence on the back foot.
Scotland v Ireland takes place in the International Stadium, Yokohama on Sunday, September 22 (kick-off 4.45pm local/8.45am UK) – live on ITV
Main photo by David Gibson/Fotosport
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