Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Ireland v Scotland, Rugby World Cup 2023: Match Preview pt I

Ireland vs Scotland
Ireland vs Scotland - graphic © Scottish Rugby Blog


2023 Rugby World CupSat 7th Oct 2023Stade de France, Saint-DenisKick-off: 8:00 pm (UK)36-14


Referee: Nic Berry (RA)| TV: ITV1/STV

First up, unfortunately, it’s the reality check…

Scotland have never beaten the number 1 ranked side in the world. The closest they have come is the agonising finish to the 17-22 defeat to New Zealand in the 2017 Autumn Tests. Overall, they have lost 10 out of 10 to the top rankers by an average margin of 23 points, including a brace of fixtures against Saturday’s opposition, Ireland.

The remaining permutations do show 3 possible routes to a quarter-final for Scotland but unfortunately, a win will not be sufficient on its own. Scotland also need to deny Ireland a bonus point of any kind or, if the Irish do pick up 1 BP, get a try bonus of their own and a sufficient margin to knock Ireland’s points difference below South Africa’s at the very least. History suggests achieving any of these results will be a serious challenge.

Scotland have only beaten Ireland 6 times in 30 attempts during the 2000s. More recently that’s 1 win in 13 games and no victories in the last 8 encounters between these teams.

Scotland have only managed a margin of victory of 8+ twice in their last 30 games v Ireland:

  • +10 – 2007 RWC warm-up at Murrayfield
  • +22 – 2001 Six Nations at Murrayfield

Scotland have only scored 4 tries twice in their last 30 games v Ireland:

  • 5 – 2007 RWC warm-up at Murrayfield
  • 4 – 2001 Six Nations at Murrayfield

In fact, the dark blues have only managed to tally 8 tries in total across their last 8 outings against the Irish.

Scotland v Ireland – Stats From Last 6 Six Nations’ Games


From 2018 to 2023 (3 games in Dublin and 3 at Murrayfield) average scoring has been:


1st half
2nd half
All figures are averages for the last 6 Six Nations’ matches between these sides

The Irish average 2.8 tries per game to 1.2 for the Scots. Add in conversions and this pretty much explains the disparity in scoring. Now, of course, it’s not possible to bag 0.8 of a try in a game! The differential is essentially Ireland scoring 3 tries to Scotland’s 1. That’s what the dark blues need to flip on its head.

In attack, they need to be the ones bagging a try treble (something they have only managed once in these 6 matches – in 2021) and the defence needs to find a way to try and hold the Irish to a single 5-pointer (only achieved in the 2020 Six Nations’ encounter).


Most of the key attacking stats run in Ireland’s favour, with the only area Scotland have the edge being defenders beaten, in no small part due to the dark blues’ tackle breaking machine, Duhan van der Merwe.



Metres run

Clean breaks
Defenders beaten

All figures are averages for the last 6 Six Nations’ matches between these sides

The Irish have more ball and are generally able to make more of it. This is built on their strong kicking game which has allowed them to win the territorial battle against the Scots by an average of 55% to 45%. Finn Russell and Blair Kinghorn have to find a way to successfully counter this or Scotland will find themselves pinned back for long spells of the game as they were versus South Africa in the opening pool match.

That may involve kicking more in the initial stages, with the goal of allowing Scotland’s attack to start from more dangerous parts of the pitch rather than playing their way out of their own half and into the teeth of Ireland’s attempts to steal ball at the breakdown.


The corollary of the defenders beaten number in attack is missed tackles by the defence.


Tackles made
Tackles missed
Tackle completion

All figures are averages for the last 6 Six Nations’ matches between these sides

Despite attempting fewer tackles, Ireland have missed more in these Six Nations’ encounters. That’s not something that has hurt them up until now but no defence coach is going to be too happy with a completion rate dipping down to 83%. The Scots simply must take advantage if their big game breakers are able to get them on the front foot.

For their own defensive duties, the big issue for the dark blues often hasn’t been missing tackles but the dominant carries from the Irish pack. In the same style as Leinster, the recycling of the ball is relentless and the constant waves of heavy hitting continually make ground so that even if there are no misses in defence, eventually the pressure will tell – a clean break or penalty will be conceded as options run out.


That Irish efficiency at the ruck is illustrated by their 97% success rate.



Rucks lost
Ruck %
Mauls lost
Maul %
All figures are averages for the last 6 Six Nations’ matches between these sides

When the Irish are in possession, everyone knows their role. It’s rare indeed for one of their carriers to become isolated, more likely there are 1 or 2 cleaners right in their wake to blast defenders out of the way and leave a clear path for Jamison Gibson-Park or Conor Murray to follow up and start the next phase of the attack.

The Scots are playing 2 jackallers in the back row with George Turner in support but seem to have been reluctant to really attack the breakdown with any regularity. It won’t be easy against the efficiency of Ireland but if there are no hands in slowing or stealing ball, it may be very difficult to stop the green tidal wave as it rolls over the defensive line.




Scrums lost
Scrum %
Lineouts lost
Lineout %
All figures are averages for the last 6 Six Nations’ matches between these sides

While Scotland’s scrum has held up well, one of the most consistently telling facets of these games has been the lineout. The dark blues struggles have frequently stymied good attacking positions and handed possession back to their opponents.

Finn Russell is a magician but even he cannot conjure up a score without the ball. If there is to be any chance of an upset win, the Scottish lineout will need to be near flawless on Saturday.

Ireland Scouting Report

  • There’s little to be gleaned from Ireland’s matches with Romania and Tonga (the Irish threw 27 offloads versus Romania compared to just 2 against South Africa) so these numbers focus on that Springboks’ encounter.
  • Ireland made 218 metres with ball in hand v SA (who made 383m) but had similar clean breaks (4 each) and defenders beaten (20 v 23). There weren’t many big busts up the park or runs back from loose deep kicks – the Irish had to earn every metre against a defensive line that put in 31 dominant tackles.
  • Scotland cannot bring that kind of physicality to their defence so will have to work smart to try and contain their opponents. As many men on feet as possible while still making good decisions about when to attack the ball will be vital.
  • 6 South African rucks and 2 mauls were turned over, while the Irish only lost 3 themselves to finish +3 on possessions at the breakdown. That contributed to total turnovers lost of 18 by South Africa to 12 for Ireland.
  • Scotland have to accept that playing their own style of attacking rugby (as they need to do if they are going to win) is going to involve some errors and some lost balls. They just need to execute as well as possible to try and keep the turnover count relatively even.
  • At the setpiece, apart from being completely splintered by the Bomb Squad at one scrum in the second half, Ireland held their own with 2 lost by each side.
  • The Irish lineout was wayward early on but recovered as the game progressed, losing 6 while winning 2 Springbok throws.
  • Scotland’s scrum has the highest percentage of penalties conceded in the tournament (25%). While the lineout actually has a reasonable success rate (85% v 77% for the Irish) it has malfunctioned at some absolutely crucial points.
  • Manie Libbok missed 3 tackles as Ireland targeted his channel. Finn Russell can expect to be worked over in his defensive duties.
  • Irish defenders who had their own struggles were Garry Ringrose (3 missed tackles) and Jamison Gibson-Park (4). They often lead the line speed though so even if the tackle isn’t made if they’ve disrupted the flow of the attack enough then it may not matter or turn into a full on breakthrough.
  • Bundee Aki is in the form of his life and Ireland want him on the ball as much as possible. His tally of 53 carries is the most at the RWC after the first 4 weeks of pool play. Scotland must shut down his opportunities to influence the game.

Previous Results

The head to head for the last 10 matches between these sides looks like this from a Scottish perspective:


Most recent match, 12th March 2023 at Murrayfield:

Scotland 7 – 22 Ireland

Significant stat
27 – defenders beaten by Scotland / tackles missed by Ireland. There was a lot of energy and pressure from the Scots, especially in the first 40 minutes, but they just lacked the ability to convert this into scores. Ireland’s defence is relentless and quickly recovers from any first up missed tackles.

The challenge for Scotland (and where they fell down when creating some good chances against South Africa) is to make the right decisions at the right time and pull the trigger on the killer pass once the defence has been stretched.

The Scottish Rugby Blog discussion post from that game is here.


Referee: Nic Berry (Australia)
Assistant Referee 1: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant Referee 2: Jordan Way (Australia)
TMO: Brett Conan (Australia)

Scotland’s most recent encounter with Mr Berry was the narrow defeat to France in the World Cup warm-ups just 8 weeks ago. French pressure brought about 13 penalties (and a yellow card) against the Scots, including the crucial late scrum offence that allowed Thomas Ramos to secure the win.

The breakdown was an area where Gregor Townsend may have raised some questions. Rory Darge was penalised as being ‘too long’ when in what is, for him, a fairly standard jackalling position. Grant Gilchrist – as he was against Wales in 2022 – was penalised for not rolling away while not actually blocking the ball. The French were able to send a ‘tackler’ who got nowhere near the ball carrier but instead floored Scotland’s cleaner leading to a holding on penalty at the ensuing ruck.

This is an area that has been crucial to so many Celtic clashes. Scottish attacks have frequently foundered on ruck turnovers in Ireland’s 22 – or even right on the try line. They need to be close to 100% accurate on both sides of the ball and a significant part of requires getting themselves on the right side of what the ref is looking for.

The last dozen matches between these sides have only had English or French refs in charge (including 3 outings for Saturday’s AR1, Mr Barnes). The last Southern Hemisphere official to be the man in the middle for Scotland against Ireland was Craig Joubert back in 2014.

The dark blues have only won the penalty count once in their last 14 meetings with the Irish. The average number of penalties conceded across these matches was Scotland 11.2 – 8.5 Ireland.

Scotland’s previous games with Mr Berry in charge:

  • 2017 – beat Samoa (H)
    Penalties: 18 (For 9 – 9 Against)
    Cards: none
  • 2019 – lost to France (A)
    Penalties: 22 (For 10 – 12 Against)
    Cards: France 1 YC
  • 2021 – beat Tonga (H)
    Penalties: 21 (For 12 – 9 Against)
    Cards: Rob Harley (YC), Tonga 1 YC
  • 2022 – lost to Wales (A)
    Penalties: 21 (For 8 – 13 Against)
    Cards: Finn Russell (YC)
  • 2022 – lost to Argentina (A)
    Penalties: 20 (For 10 – 10 Against)
    Cards: none
  • 2022 – beat Fiji (H)
    Penalties: 29 (For 18 – 11 Against)
    Cards: Stuart Hogg (YC), Darcy Graham (YC), Fiji 3 YCs
  • 2023 – lost to France (A)
    Penalties: 20 (For 7 – 13 Against)
    Cards: Ali Price (YC)

The Team

Scotland: Blair Kinghorn, Darcy Graham, Huw Jones, Sione Tuipulotu, Duhan van der Merwe, Finn Russell, Ali Price; Pierre Schoeman, George Turner, Zander Fagerson, Richie Gray, Grant Gilchrist, Jamie Ritchie (capt), Rory Darge, Jack Dempsey.
Replacements: Ewan Ashman, Rory Sutherland, WP Nel, Scott Cummings, Matt Fagerson, Luke Crosbie, George Horne, Ollie Smith.

Part II of the preview, including the head to heads, will follow later in the week after the team announcements.

15 Responses

  1. I don’t know how these things work but sincerely hope GT, the coaches, Ritchie, Russell, Dodson whoever is best placed is already, and before the game, lobbying the referee, politely, pointing out how he turned the last French game (including first half, last penalty and lineout) and how much the Irish cheat the breakdown (offsides and holding players down). A bit of Rassie style cynicism needed in advance, if ever. Address the referee and the line out, learning from previous world cups, and may just have chance. Berry seemed to want to even things up a bit against France so reminding him that ultimately he scuppered Scotland in the last game is no bad thing.

    1. Rassie’s antics certainly haven’t harmed the Springboks. They’re getting more than their fair share of reffing decisions in this WC.

    2. Nodding my head in agreement. I totally agree with you, we need to manage the referees better.

  2. Sigh…Nic Berry as Ref??…Always seems to me to have a bad relationship with Jamie Ritchie.
    Expect about 1 penalty for us to 2 against us.
    Up against it before we start….

  3. I think the first 20 minutes are going to be crucial in this one. If we get a score ahead or they get some card trouble in this period it will change the outlook.

    I also think timing of the subs will be crucial. I think Hornito will come on a bit sooner with Price in the team than maybe he might have done with White there, so that’s good at least. I think we need our front row to do a shift as well. Obviously it depends how the game’s going, but all things being equal something like this would work for me…

    Ashman (63 mins), Sutherland (63), Nel (70), Cummings (55), Fagerson (55), Crosbie (65), Horne (40), Ollie Smith (only if needed).

  4. Fascinating selection. Tough to fault the big calls, if harsh on Watson and Redpath.

    Exciting team. Someone said that backline is like Cruyff’s total football, each player could play each position.

    Interested to see how the pack weighs up. There is some iron girders there. Suspect, against the Irish, Watson and Ritchie would be too lightweight. Going to find out how good Crosbie is later on…

    Smith could have been Redpath, but kicking game probably got him there. Has Price found that Lions form?

    There’s a freshness and consistency to this 23.

  5. I would liked to have seen Healy get the bench spot instead of Smith,reason in my opinion is if Fin gets injured or is having a poor game then an established ten rather than an makeshift ten taking over would be preferable and also his kicking for goal was top notch in the game he played in and grew in other aspects of his game and became more confident.

  6. Scotland are up against the No 1 in the world rugby team,so stop making excuses about what roll that the referee might have on the game, try to make a difference with your ability not run down Ireland or the referee. come on you boy’s in green

    1. With all respect…..we’ll do the hell what we want. I want ref pressure, dodgy red cards given to the Irish and your lads to be pinged at the breakdown for a change. I’ll take any scrappy win.

      ROG and your wee pet Matt Williams have been mouthing off about Scotland for years.

      I’m hoping for a tight game here but expecting the worst. Mon the Scotland !

  7. Would have had the Mish on the bench personally, pairs nicely with Hornito’s pace, but otherwise no real surprises. Looks a pretty tactical selection. Shame for Redpath and Steyne but great we have such competition in these positions. Hope the forwards can bring the intensity without cards. Cannot wait for this, off to Paris now and hoping for dream scenario – a puffing Sexton struggling to get ball as the Irish pack are mullered, Fin knocking 50:22’s every 5 mins, lineout functions, scrum monstrous, and Darcy Dvdm and Huwpolotu finish.

  8. This seems an optimistic starting XV, perhaps dangerously so. It promises fire and brimstone with that back three and Huw Jones from the off. But would have thought Harris, Steyn and Smith starting for defensive strength, because if we get stuffed in the first 20 the mental cave will crumble. For me, the manic fearlessness of Mish last game should have replaced Ritchie who hasn’t really fired this tournie.

    On the other hand, the mistake against the Boks was we didn’t take an alternative running game to them from the off. So why Price not Horne? As usual, Finn wields the creative hammer, with Tui as first receiver for protection. As usual, the line out and scrum penalties will determine. And just hope that old Uncle Willem isn’t required. Remember Keith Wood’s exhortation to his pack: “If you’re tired, you can sleep tomorrow.”

    Let’s hope the built-in excuse of the pool proves redundant.

  9. Bookies are giving an average margin of 11 to if we go down by less than this we are
    above expectation performance. We failed to make the expected margin against SA scoring only 3 points. Things can only get better.

  10. I like the team. I’ve long wanted a 6-2 with two back rowers.
    While Watson got a lot of attention for the Romania game Crosbie was also excellent. he covers 6&7 and is a lineout option.
    I would’ve gone with Steyn over Smith.
    Price is on form.

  11. I think the Price call is correct. His form has definitely improved and Ben White struggled against Faf. Price also has more big game experience with the Lions and Scotland which will be important. He is also a leader and has plenty of experience playing with Finn.

    I can understand why Hamish hasn’t been selected. I’m not convinced he’d be pinballing off Irish forwards and offers no versatility from the bench. Having said that Ritchie is a bit fortunate to get a start IMO but hopefully the rest has done him good. Crosbie and Matt Fagerson are a good physical options off the bench to face the Irish and will be a good match for the likes of Jack Conan.

    Really hope Finn doesn’t get crocked because a return to Blair Switch is not ideal in a win or bust RWC game.

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