Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Scotland v Ireland, RWC 2019: Match Preview pt II – head to heads

Scotland vs Ireland
Graphic © Scottish Rugby Blog

Things are rather different now compared to when Scotland and Ireland last met in a World Cup match during the 1991 tournament. In those days it was the Scots who started the game with the whip hand over their Celtic cousins having only lost twice in their previous 8 meetings. The dark blues were coming off the back of a Grand Slam in 1990. Ireland were the perennial wooden spoon contenders.

Now the roles have reversed. Scotland’s upturn in fortunes in recent years provides some hope though. History teaches us that things move in cycles and fortunes can change. Could this be the start of a more positive era for Scotland?

Tale of the tape

65   Tries   61
92kg   Average weight   94kg
311   Total caps   254
22   RWC caps   17
RWC debutants   5
29.5   Average age   27.5

887kg   Pack weight   894kg
Tries   35
319   Total caps   425
19   RWC caps   28
RWC debutants   3
29.5   Average age   29.1

16   Tries   14
151   Total caps   117
8   RWC caps   0
RWC debutants   8
27.6   Average age   27.1

10 changes to Scotland starting XV from last Test (v Georgia)

  • 15 – Hogg for Kinghorn [+]
  • 11 – Maitland for Graham [+]
  • 10 – Russell for Hastings [+]
  • 9 – Laidlaw for Price [+]
  • 1 – Dell for Reid [+]
  • 2 – McInally for Turner [+]
  • 3 – Nel for Fagerson [+]
  • 4 – Gilchrist for Cummings [+]
  • 6/8 – Barclay for Thomson with Wilson moving from 6 to 8 [+]
  • 7 – Watson for Ritchie [+]

15 Stuart Hogg
14 Tommy Seymour
13 Duncan Taylor
12 Sam Johnson
11 Sean Maitland
10 Finn Russell
9 Greig Laidlaw
ADV Scotland
ADV Scotland
ADV Ireland
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ADV Ireland
ADV Ireland
15 Jordan Larmour
14 Andrew Conway
13 Garry Ringrose
12 Bundee Aki
11 Jacob Stockdale
10 Johnny Sexton
9 Conor Murray

1 Allan Dell
2 Stuart McInally (c)
3 Willem Nel
4 Grant Gilchrist
5 Jonny Gray
6 John Barclay
7 Hamish Watson
8 Ryan Wilson

ADV Ireland
ADV Scotland
ADV Ireland
ADV Ireland
ADV Ireland
ADV Scotland
ADV Ireland

1 Cian Healy
2 Rory Best (c)
3 Tadhg Furlong
4 Iain Henderson
5 James Ryan
6 Peter O’Mahony
7 Josh van der Flier
8 CJ Stander

16 Fraser Brown
17 Gordon Reid
18 Simon Berghan
19 Scott Cummings
20 Blade Thomson
21 Ali Price
22 Chris Harris
23 Darcy Graham

ADV Scotland
ADV Ireland
ADV Ireland
ADV Ireland
ADV Scotland
ADV Ireland
ADV Scotland

16 Niall Scannell
17 Dave Kilcoyne
18 Andrew Porter
19 Tadhg Beirne
20 Jack Conan
21 Luke McGrath
22 Jack Carty
23 Chris Farrell


Backs – even

Ireland’s backline stocks are pretty thin on the ground in Japan. All 10 available players have been selected in the 23 with, seemingly, Rob Kearney, Keith Earls, Robbie Henshaw and Joey Carbery all not ready to feature following injury. There’s no significant drop off in quality (and maybe a bit more attacking flair) but there’s certainly far less experience out wide.

That’s not an issue for Scotland – Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour and Sean Maitland have shared 159 caps and 50 tries amongst themselves. It’s the battle at 10 that may well be where this game is won and lost though. Finn Russell and Johnny Sexton will set the tone for their teams. They’ve only gone head to head on 4 previous occasions for club and country with the Irishman winning all 4 of those. Can Finn’s brilliance overturn the proven big game performer?

Forwards – advantage Ireland

Both sides have been able to add some strength to the packs compared to their previous meeting 7 months ago during the Six Nations. Iain Henderson and CJ Stander add even more physicality to an already brutal pack. Scotland will have to hope that bringing in Willem Nel, John Barclay and Hamish Watson allows them to be more competitive up front than they were at Murrayfield.

Subs – even

The respective coaches will be pretty comfortable with the quality of their bench options. If things go to plan though a lot of key players could go deep into the match before subs are even considered. The most likely game changers are Tadhg Beirne for Ireland – who could alter the flow at the breakdown if required – and Darcy Graham for Scotland – who can create scores from the least promising of circumstances.


–  Captain Stuart McInally will be the 150th player to feature for Scotland in a Rugby World Cup match.

–  Combinations can often be key. Here’s how frequently each of the Scottish teams’ units have started together for the national side:

  • Front row – 6th time (plus another 4 for Edinburgh)
  • Second row – 13th
  • Back row – 11th
  • Half backs – 34th
  • Centres – 2nd
  • Back 3 – 20th (plus 7 for Glasgow)

– Old lags John Barclay and Rory Best both played in the 2007 edition of the RWC. John is returning to World Cup action after a gap of just under 8 years since his last appearance against England in Auckland.

– 7 of Scotland’s XV also started the dark blues’ last RWC match against Australia. 4 Irishmen return from their 2015 quarter final versus Argentina.

– All 6 of the players who have been named to captain matches in the Townsend era are included in the starting lineup.

– The last competitive match for 18 of these players was the PRO14 final in May. The rain may feel very familiar from that day – although the temperature almost certainly will not!

Missed part 1? Check it out here. Featuring the previous history between these two sides; Ireland scouting report; and Scotland’s record with Mr Barnes as referee.

89 Responses

  1. Think these are a bit generous tbh. Maitland over Stockdale, Johnson over Aki, Barclay even with POM would all be vigorously disputed by the Irish with good reason. We have plenty of very talented players but Ireland boast serial winners at the highest levels…except the world cup.

    Still, we have a chance of an upset if Ireland start slowly and are clincial when we create opportunties.

    1. Not easy making these calls when the players haven’t played a full intensity match for months!

      Maitland v Stockdale is even rather then Maitland over Stockdale. On the basis that Stockdale’s attacking prowess is undoubted but Maitland has the better all-round game (and for me is crucial to Scotland’s back 3 and freeing up Hogg to play off the cuff).

      Johnson was Scotland and Glasgow’s form back once he was clear of injury this season.

      Ireland fans spent the Six Nations bemoaning the fact that POM was contributing nothing bar lineouts (to be fair, probably not the ones from Munster!) Barclay is another crucial player for me who balances out what’s needed for that back row as he can adapt to so many different roles.

      I’d agree the head to heads don’t capture a lot of elements – including the psychological boost of having a team who go in with that winners’ mindset.

      Overall advantage is definitely with the Irish (although they have lost a bit in the backs). It would be one of the all-time great Scottish victories if Ireland were to be turned over.

      1. Also I don’t think comparing each individual player means much in a team sport.
        Collectively Ireland have shown more consistentcy and focus. Individually I wouldn’t say Ireland are at an advantage at all…we have just as good players all playing at the same level for club sides.
        If we play ‘as one’… its game on.

      2. I think you’re spot on, Ruggers, but at present we can’t quantify chemistry or coaching or game plan or execution or whatever. These articles are, to me, just a starting point so that I can tell Kevin and all else that Russell is better than Sexton. Which he is.

      3. TeamCam….with modern data, and analysis techniques, this is possible but maybe not done…wish it were, cause we would (maybe) see the value in players, let’s say Wilson or Horne Sr, who (might) help the team function better without being the star.

  2. Ireland are wounded without Kearney who is good under a high ball particularly in the air. Much better than Hogg in that respect. Looking at the teams, this is the best chance we have had in a very very long time. If we fail to take this , questions must be asked !

      1. Ireland are favorites all day long, no question, absolutely right , they are 9/1 to win the tournament , we are a generous 66/1, but its the weakest Ireland side we have seen in a long time. Furthermore , Townsend has invested so much in this moment, its win or bin in my opinion.

        As for the optimistic post talking about the sum of Cotter and Toonie combined. I don’t agree with that. Keep Cotter out of it, whatever happens in this RWC is all Toonie. Let’s hope he proves the like of me wrong.

      2. You need to stop getting your excuses in early. This is Townsend’s finest moment. Regardless of poor preparation, he cannot lose tomorrow, if he loses , he was playing the world number 1’s , if he wins he has beaten the world number 1’s , is forgiven for his fooling around and gets a decent crack at the springboks . But , please , no more experimental sides for the rest of the group stages.

  3. How about this , head to heads . How about a head to head rating of the coaches.

    Years in post
    wins over Tier 1 nations
    losses to Tier 2 nations
    average number of players used in tenure
    wins away from home
    wins over southern hemisphere sides.

    I think we know who gets the advantage in this contest.

  4. I would take Finn ahead of Jonny Sexton. Finn has matured and Jonny is a bit past his best. Still a big task tomorrow. We don’t want to be going into the Samoa and Japan games knowing the best we can achieve is a game against the All Blacks

  5. New Zealand vs South Africa. Quality rugby. What sets them apart from everyone else? Reaction times are much, much faster. Get that right and you can seize opportunities and recover from errors.

  6. Kearney being injured definitely weakens Ireland. Yes he’s not an incredible attacking player and certainly not as exciting as Jordan Larmour (although he scored several times in the warm ups) but his defensive organisation of the back three and covering of the back field is up there with Leigh Halfpenny. He’s flawless under the high ball, and adds leadership and experience. Stockdale is not the best defensively in terms of his placement and having Kearney would have helped sort that out. I hope that Finn saw the England France match this year as Farrell put in tons of kicks in to the corners in the 22 from which England scored when Huget (I think?) was playing out of position at FB and didn’t organise his back three well. Obviously Larmour does play fullback and will be better than that but hoping to see some space in the corners without Kearney around.

  7. Warm and light winds here, forecast is maybe light rain at ko time. Fingers crossed, no weather that will defo suit the Irish. Great from our perspective that Kearney and Earl’s are out. They seem to leave their best for us. Thankfully, we don’t have a French referee, the non refereeing of the breakdown between the Boks and ABs was mystifying and we all know how “clever” the Irish are in this area. Much will depend on attitude and line speed. Get that right and we are well in with a shout. Interestingly and to finish, the Boks smashed the ABs for 20 mins last night, more inventive than the Irish, but still highly physical. They were out on their feet after 20 mins. Spot the daft Scot, as optimistic as ever but c’mon the boys!!

    1. It is great to get that perspective from pitch side, thank you. The AB ‘s won as they had incredible defense. It was what the AB’s did when they did not have the ball they counted. That tenacity will demoralise us , should we come second this evening. This is a must win game.

  8. The Scotland centres are injury prone and wouldn’t count out there being two fresh faces after this game.

  9. I like Neil’s prediction! Hot and humid here in Yokohama. Thankfully no sign of the inch of rain we were threatened with earlier in the week. Fingers and toes crossed!

    1. Oh dear! (Apparently that comment is too short to post! Not sure what I can add! I’m sure someone will think of something!)

  10. Cool and drizzly here in Livingston after a late-summer scorcher yesterday.

    Would love for us to beat this dull, cynical Irish side but can’t see it. It’ll be a real Hail Mary shot against NZ on oct 20th when all is said and done. There is always that hope that on a golden day we have the players, first in line the lunatic Russell, and ambitious gameplan to do something silly.

  11. Italy in their white strip looking a lot like Scotland (hopefully of yesterday….).

    Some lovely runs and breaks but failing to finish things off over and over again!

  12. 3 tries down, game almost over without even firing a shot yet. We’ve been really poor – handing over possession with basic execution errors and no defensive aggression at all.

  13. We look abject. And why aren’t we offside in defence? Ireland have been at literally every ruck. About to be four tries. Pathetic.

  14. We are rubbish. Soft touch in defence. Trying to over play in attack.

    Toonie seems to have no idea.

  15. The only reason I’ve not switched off is the Calcutta cup. I haven’t wanted to say it but since coming back. Taylor looks slow. This is a defining test for Toony. He needs to go nuclear now, Blade, Darcy as a minimum on.

  16. It is the players , eh um , yes I think it is the players, they are not executing the game plan, we still have the second half when we can bring on Chris Harris to execute the plan properly. That is it yes, start listening to Gregor.

  17. Seen it all now, Brown on for Watson. We only need Brown or McInally Injured and we have no one left to hook for this game and who knows how we cope with the pool.

    Sorry lads, this coach has no strategic mind at all.

  18. What a disappointing first half; pack bullied, backline playing with total lack of precision, defence passive and disorganised and what looks like a tournament ending injury to one of our best players. We need to improve rapdily to get out of the group.

  19. Woeful.

    The players look clueless and knackered.

    There was a long shot on McInally in the first half and he just looked glaikit. No fire, no passion, just confused and unsure of what to do next.

    Ireland are cruising now and just playing a training run.

    1. McInally is the most overrated player in Scotland.

      Wilson is not an international 8 but Toonie wants him and Barclay in the back row- one or the other.

      JG/Gilchrist is not an international class second row combination.

      Fraser Brown on at 7. What is Townsend doing? Bring a back row on in the back row please! If Barclay can’t play the whole game, don’t pick him.

      Seymour looks done.

      Shut Russell and Hogg down and we don’t know what to do.

      None of the above is a surprise though. The Townsend experiment is done. We need a more pragmatic coach.

  20. As if the SRU were terrified to lose Townsend so booted out Cotter for him. Looking like a massive mistake now. The credit Townsend had in the bank for the work he did at Glasgow and therefore boosted Scottish rugby has now been spent….he’s in the overdraft now.

    1. Some huge misconceptions of Scotland’s fan base:

      In Toonie we trust (the players dont – just watch them)

      We play as 14 men plus one Stuart Hogg and that is ok. (15 men one team) asone

      The second half of the Calcutta Cup was about the players executing the game plan properly.(Players did it – not good guy Gregor).

  21. Nice to see Townsends favourites really stepping up & not being somewhat responsible for 2 of those tries …

    Im also enjoying the go forward we are making from our bruising forwards selection.

    Hey at least it’s only Watson injured and not one of our other ball carying forwards.

    Don’t worry chaps, Chris Harris will come on and save our world cup aspirations 👍

    1. Im also delighted to see our backline is gelling so well with their months of training and game time with each other in the warm ups.

  22. I cant believe GT has had all this time to get this right…get them at least competing with Ireland.
    We look awful.
    Ireland looked ready for a fight from the off….we looked like we wanted to play touch footy at the local park.

  23. My kids are born in England. I’m worried it’s irresponsible of me to push Scottish fanship upon them. They so rarely see anything but rage from me watching them

    1. and tackling, and getting in position, and in believing this team is all about serving him , like a queen bee in a hive. He is in for such a shock when he arrives in the south west.

    2. Hogg has looked as overrated as the rest of the backline today…utter tripe performances.
      The pack are utter fairies. Meek Johny and powderpuff gilchrist.
      GT on a shoogly peg now.

  24. Seymour does look done – sooner Darcy in the better. Don’t know why Reid not starting and Dell finishing doesn’t work other way round. Missing Denton / Thomson. Jones in the midfield is a massive massive miss. Laidlaw has looked limited at this level – can’t clear far enough, can’t pas quick enough or flat enough utterly found out in defence. I’d have started him too, but that’s just because always forget how second tier he is when we’re playing at the highest level. Despite his vomiting Barclay has been really good. Even Taylor has been mostly good – just a shame between his and Seymour’s balls up that we’ve lost all momentum. Wilson and Gilchrist anonymous. So many things about this GT orchestrated team that could be better. It’s going to be a long old second half and don’t expect Ireland to fold like England. Plus points: Hogg really the only player to put his hand up, Russell and Johnson. There’s almost a team there if something could just happen

    1. Take that back woeful from Barclay and Taylor. Terrible performance across the pitch. Let’s book the plane home now. Hope Huw Jones is looking at this and laughing.

  25. Why isn’t pushing a player in dead ball area a yellow? But that’s excuses- a dreadful performance so far, think they should put some more shampoo on the ball!

  26. Simply not competitive. We have regressed under Townsend. Ireland might be number one team in the rankings but they are an aging side and we should have been more competitive. Haven’t asked them any questions at all.

    Can’t wait for the ‘the boys are disappointed, we’ll regroup etc etc etc’

    1. Are Ireland really an ageing team? Sure, Best and Sexton are getting on a bit but even with them included our backs and forwards have average ages lower than Scotlands (see data presented above).

  27. Utterly utterly pathetic. Townsend should resign and be replaced by an inflatable duck and we wouldn’t notice the difference

  28. Japan & Samoa will be rubbing their hands. Dross from 1 – 15 & many of the replacements too. Can’t believe this is what the coaching team asked for.

    1. Tidy offload in one attack, nice miss pass to Thomson. He looks much better than Taylor who was miles off the pace.

  29. Losing the lineout on 75 mins says it all. Really really poor.

    Japan could be a problem. Only upside is they don’t have the same physicality as an Ireland

      1. Its Ireland’s tight five that bullied us really, rather than the backrow. Japan’s tight five has qualities but they can’t do that to us.

  30. Positives, the back subs.

    Negatives, everything else

    Hogg has been a Parisse and based on today I wonder if we are a better collective with Kinghorn despite a Hoggs talents. Hogg hasn’t passed. The FIIDIM attitude stinks

      1. He has become like Karney. Does not pass and thinks he can run pass everyone. Draw and pass …. taught that on day 1

  31. God that was horrendous. Not one aspect of the game went well. Attack, defence, set piece, aerial contest, breakdown all absolutely terrible.

    Minor positives were the replacement backs.

  32. Some of it has been injury enforced but Townsend’s selection policy has been so inconsistent. How does the team find form and cohesion when it’s changed every game?

    Picking Huw Jones throughout his tenure then dropping him completely from the squad.

    A one off experiment with Hastings at 12 that then went nowhere.

    Byron McGuigan in and out of the squad. All of this tinkering adds up imo.

    Today we’ve seen key players return such as Seymour and Gray who were not fit for the warm ups. This is their 1st rugby and it’s against Ireland in the opener.

    I think selection like that might work in the pro 14 where you’ve got 20 games to redeem yourselves and find momentum but in the 6N or RWC you get 4 or 5 games.

    We’ve seen a lot of shambolic openers in Townsend’s tenure.
    Wales 2018.
    France in the RWC warm ups.

    There’s a pattern here and I think the team are low on confidence.

  33. Looks like Watson had a bad injury. Suspect he is out of the WC. Assume Bradbury will be the replacement if needed

  34. I would say Barclay and Taylor are not fit and despite their obvious positive virtues Ritchie and, unbelievably, Harris have to start the big games (and this is indicative of the level we are at) against Samoa and Japan. Obviously we now have no out and out 7 so Ritchie will have to play there, Wilson to 6 and Bradbury/Thomson at 8 (assuming Watson is finished).

    McInally offered very little on the field and also in leadership. He seems undroppable though. I prefer Brown’s abrasiveness.

    Props- they are all average. Nel probably the best.

    I think after the World Cup we need to move on from Barclay, Laidlaw, Gilchrist, Wilson, Seymour. They are not up to it now against a tier one side. Jonny Gray needs to improve or he will be gone soon too. He is so passive. Hogg has to change his style of play- he isn’t the player he was either, I put this down to the style they are trying to play.

    Very disappointing. We can’t play the Toonie way and if he doesn’t see that he needs to go.

  35. Based on that game I think it shows that Townsend got the team and maybe the squad wrong. Taylor, Laidlaw and Seymour being particularly poor and off the pace I thought. Do you think he will stick with them or go all in on Graham, Horne Harris and maybe even Cummins next game?

    1. You need experience in the team, Laidlaw and Seymour were wise choices, make up of the back three is correct. But Taylor was a mistake, great player but what?, he’s played 3 full games in nearly two years! That’s not right to be thrown into the world cup, I actually feel sorry for him.

  36. Aghhh. Some one tell Hogg he has a team around him. How many times did he not pass and killed the move

  37. It takes 12 positive experiences to undo the damage of 1 negative experience.

    Well, that was pitiful. Ireland Irelanded and we Scotlanded. Hard. Townsend picked a team not to lose and lost anyway. As soon as Ireland scored their first try I knew it would be a bloodbath. It’s a damning indictment of the coaches. Hedging their bets on Taylor and Dell was somehow both conservative and risky.

    Conway’s try came because three defenders had their backs to him! W.T.F.

    Price, Graham, Hogg, Thomson, Reid and Harris looked good and committed. Everyone else… wow. Russell has skills but the deadwood dragged him (and the players I’ve listed above) down, especially when confronted with a fired up Ireland.

    Sadly another shameful day in which we made a good team look like world champions. Time to find another team to support…

    I hope Watson’s injury isn’t too serious, but it looked bad.

    1. What did Dell do wrong? Scrum was steady on his side for majority of his time on the bench and all the penalties conceded on the tighthead side and he made his tackles with only Nel and Watson making more I beleive, trucked it up and hit his rucks. Problems in the pack lie in the passive back 5 not the front row.

      1. When Reid came on the scrum was strong. Starting Reid and Nel would have at least give a stable platform from which to screw up our attack.

  38. I would say that Barclay is finished at International. Wilson isn’t International class. Taylor not fit. Hogg too greedy. Seymour not 1st choice over D’Arcy Graham. McInally is not a Captain. Just my 1st thoughts after the game

  39. Japan will be licking their lips like we are some of the freshest sushi after that performance.

    Defences have worked out Hogg & he has lost the magic touch about him for over a year now, all he offers is a boot and he has actually become a liability in attack.

    Powderpuff carrying gives the backs no platform, although some coaches don’t seem to learn from there mistakes.

    Harris looked decent but this has always been Townsends planning so he can boost his ego and determined not to be proven wrong at the expense of the team, whatever Toony.. you win.

    And for christ sake pick bloody form players & bring experience of the bench! look at the AB’s

    My squad for next game and arguably first choice tbh.

    1. Reid
    2. Brown
    3. Nel
    4. Gilchrist
    5. Cummings
    6. Thomson
    7. Ritchie
    8. Bradbury (assuming Watson is out)
    9. Horne
    10. Russell
    11. Graham
    12. Johnson
    13. Taylor
    14. Kinghorn
    15. Maitland

    16. McInally
    17. Dell
    18. Berghan
    19. Gray
    20. Barclay
    21. Laidlaw
    22. Hastings
    23. Hogg

    I would stick Harris in but we really need to just get that 10-12-13 combo firing instead of chopping and changing constantly.

  40. Nel – done
    McInally – not a captain.
    Dell- a fairy
    Gilchrist – a fairy
    Gray – a fairy with tackle stats
    Barclay- done
    Watson- Good player hope he is ok.
    Wilson – as much use as a black traffic cone
    Laidlaw – Good at shouting at every player despite not being much good himself. Spends more time doing that than actually playing good rugby.Can kick a stationary rugby ball between 2 posts.
    Russell occasionally brilliant in friendly matches or with nothing to lose…but an absolute bomb scare the rest of the time.
    Maitland – usually consistently a 7.5 /10 player but was awful like everyone else today.
    Johnson – tried and wasn’t as bad as his teammates.
    Taylor -awful match …looked unsurprisingly rusty after being injured for 10 years.
    Seymour – Done
    Hogg – overated prima dona of a player. Cant tackle. Doesn’t position himself correctly. Isn’t a team player…and frankly doesn’t have much of a try scoring threat anymore.

    Cant judge any of the subs…game was over long before they

    Coaching team ..

    GT 0/10 (wrong squad selection…wrong team selection…wrong tactics…wrong fn everything)
    Defense coach 0/10…actually …do we have one??
    Backs coach 0/10
    fitness and conditioning team 0/10

  41. Was Dan McFarland leaving Townsend’s equivalent of Brian Clough going to Leeds without Peter Taylor? Scotland have got immeasurable worse since McFarland left.

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