Preview: Ireland v Scotland
WORLD CUP POOL MATCH: Ireland may go into the tournament ranked No.1 in the world, but Scotland is not short of confidence and scent a possible upset in their opening Pool A match on Sunday.
Hooker Stuart McInally will captain the most experienced Test team in Scotland rugby history with 630 caps, considerably more than the previous record of 581 against England in 2011 and France in 2003.
“To get a squad that has this experience for such a big game is a real bonus,” coach Gregor Townsend said of his side ranked seventh in the world.
“Experience is important. Experience with form, recent form, and really good physical shape makes it even more valuable and that is what we have with this group this weekend.”
Townsend has close to his top match-day 23 available, including a backline stacked with British and Irish Lions, while Ireland is beset by injury with Rob Kearney, Robbie Henshaw and Keith Earls all missing.
The loss of their combined experience could be a telling factor when Scots flyhalf Finn Russell starts directing play at the International Stadium Yokohama.
Although Scotland has lost six of their past seven games against Ireland, Townsend said they are coming into form at the right time.
“We have had two of our best ever training sessions, so as a coach, you get excited about things like that,” he said.
“I also see the experience we have in our squad this weekend and that counts for a lot in big games.
“I believe in this team as individuals and we believe we will create opportunities. On Sunday it is about taking them.
“We have to win all the big moments. We have to win every moment in the game, whether it is a ruck clearance, a tackle, an execution of a pass.”
* Continue reading below …
With a hastily rearranged backline to contend with, Ireland coach Joe Schmidt will be looking for a dominant performance from his forwards to starve Scotland of possession.
In a Pool A that also includes Japan, who scored four tries in Friday’s 30-10, bonus-point win over Russia, the passage to the quarter-finals is far from guaranteed for the losing side.
Scotland goes into the World Cup on a three-match winning streak with victories over France and twice against Georgia.
Ireland, however, lost heavily to England before completing their warm-up campaign with back-to-back wins against Wales.
“One thing I will be really confident of is that we will be tough to beat,” Schmidt said.
Players to watch
For Ireland: Jordan Larmour and Andrew Conway were promoted to Ireland’s starting line- after a frustrating week of backline injuries. Rob Kearney and Keith Earls, who have more than 170 caps between them, had run out of time to prove their fitness. In the forwards, Tadhg Furlong, captain Rory Best and Cian Healy – the most established front row of all 20 World Cup teams – will start together for the 14th time.
For Scotland: Star backs Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell will lead Scotland’s challenge. The Scottish backline is packed full of British and Irish Lions players – scrumhalf Greig Laidlaw and wing Tommy Seymour have also won Lions honours. Up front, flank John Barclay will feature in his third World Cup, after playing in both 2007 and 2011 but missing out in 2015.
Head to head
The contests all over the field are tantalising, but the key in the backlines is between flyhalves Jonathan Sexton (Ireland) and Finn Russell (Scotland), closely followed by the scrumhalf contest between Conor Murray (Ireland) and Greig Laidlaw (Scotland). The scrum battle will also be crucial – with Tadhg Furlong, Rory Best and Cian Healy (Ireland) against Willem Nel, Stuart McInally and Allan Dell (Scotland).
Last 12 results
Prediction: The bookmakers are giving Ireland a nine-point handicap, despite their injury problems. They may well exceed that margin. We suggest Ireland to win by 10 points or more.
Ireland: 15 Jordan Larmour, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Christiaan Stander, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 James Ryan, 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Rory Best (captain), 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Niall Scannell, 17 David Kilcoyne, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Tadhg Beirne, 20 Jack Conan, 21 Luke McGrath, 22 Jack Carty, 23 Chris Farrell.
Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Duncan Taylor, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 Sean Maitland, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Greig Laidlaw, 8 Ryan Wilson, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 John Barclaym 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Grant Gilchrist, 3 Willem Nel, 2 Stuart McInally (captain), 1 Allan Dell
Replacements: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Gordon Reid, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Scott Cummings, 20 Blade Thomson, 21 Ali Price, 22 Chris Harris, 23 Darcy Graham
Date: Sunday, September 21
Venue: International Stadium, Yokohama
Kick-off: 16.45 (08.45 UK time, 07.45 GMT)
Expected weather: Considerable clouds, a couple of showers in the afternoon. High of 26°C and a low of 22°C
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Pascal Gaüzère (France), Alexandre Ruiz (France)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)