A high-flying European duel sees Ireland face Scotland on Saturday at the Stade de France, in search of a major feat to advance to the final phase. The Scots will have a lot to do against a Clover XV which has dominated world rugby for more than a year. The Irish are aiming for first place in a very tough Group B in which South Africa also finds itself.
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If Ireland and Scotland have already faced each other 140 times, these two teams will meet for only the second time face to face within the framework of a World Cup. The first clash had already occurred in the group stage, ago four years, with a clear Irish victory (27-3) in Yokohama. The XV of Clover then qualified for the quarters while Scotland was eliminated from the 2019 edition.
This new World Cup duel, which takes place on Saturday October 7 at the Stade de France, must decide the qualification of these two teams from Pool B for the final phase of the competition. The balance clearly tilts in favor of Ireland, first nation in the world ranking for around fifteen months. They have won the last eight confrontations against the XV du Chardon, signing two grand slams in the Six Nations tournaments of 2018 and 2023. Scotland was content with third place in these two competitions.
Carried out on the basis of the world ranking as of January 1, 2020, the draw for this World Cup clearly did not work in favor of Scotland, which found itself in Pool B alongside Ireland and from South Africa, two teams given favorites for the world title. Beaten from the start by the Springboks (18-3), the Scots retain a slim chance of qualifying provided they beat Ireland, undefeated for 17 matches, and not give them the slightest bonus point.
The staff of these three teams still competing for the final phase have been carrying out calculations for several days to prepare for all scenarios. Among them is that of a Scottish victory with offensive bonus and more than 20 points difference which would then cost South Africa its qualification. When this not very credible option was submitted to the South African coach at a press conference, Jacques Nienaber hoped that his team would not be the victim of a fixed match. A statement not appreciated by certain members of the Scottish and Irish management, who reacted strongly to the mention of such a hypothesis.
The Russell-Sexton duel
On the lawn of the Stade de France, the Irish will be particularly wary on Saturday of the Scottish fly-half Finn Russell, capable of “pulling out a magic trick every time he plays” according to Mike Catt, attack coach of the XV of the Clover. The inspirations of this unpredictable player, who has played for the last six seasons in the Racing 92 club, indeed bring a lot to Scotland. But they are not always flamboyant and also fuel numerous criticisms against this 31-year-old player who sometimes seems to err on the side of casualness.
“Finn Russell is different. He will try things that others don’t try,” said Laurent Travers, coach of Racing 92, in an interview with France 2 during the last Six Nations Tournament. He was thus decisive during a confrontation that became historic between England and Scotland in March 2019. Trailing 31-0 in the 35th minute, the Scots managed that day to finally secure a draw (38- 38). And Finn Russell distributed the game magnificently in the second half, even giving himself a try on an interception.
🏉 #STADIUM2 | Finn Russell: great art
The Scotland international is considered the best number 10 in the world. One week before the clash against the French XV with Scotland, we went to meet him and his teammates from Racing 92. pic.twitter.com/5iGPSgjCvW
— francetvsport (@francetvsport) February 19, 2023
Often mocked for his atypical physique in professional rugby and his generous abdominal belt, Finn Russell “breathes” rugby and has fun on the field. At the risk of sometimes losing balls on overly complicated passes or lacking precision with your feet. But his teammates know that he can easily compete with the experienced Irish fly-half Jonathan Sexton, a fan of more academic rugby. In an interview granted this week to Virgin Media, Finn Russell certainly said he expected a difficult match against this key player who “controls the Irish game”, but he nevertheless displayed the same relaxation as usual before this crucial match.
A powerful and fast Scotland
The Scottish fly-half, who will play in Bath after this World Cup, lists his team’s weapons in this interview and notably mentions the “dangerous three-quarters” for the Irish opponent, citing them: Darcy Graham, Sione Tuipulotu, Huw Jones and Duhan van der Merwe. Of South African origin, the latter has an impressive physique as he measures 1.93 m and weighs 96 kilos, a size closer to a third row than a three-quarter wing. He also has a great burst of speed which allows him to make opposing defenders suffer.
Other players born in South Africa find themselves in the ranks of the Scottish team, such as props Pierre Schoeman and Willem Petrus Nel. They benefit from the expertise of another native of the rainbow nation, Pieter de Villiers, who wore the French XV jersey 66 times. In charge of the Scottish scrum for three years, the former Blue relies on very solid and technical forwards who also know how to move very well, like the young third row Rory Darge.
This powerful and fast Scottish team believes in its ability to achieve the feat against Ireland. And she hopes that luck will be on her side this time in the World Cup. Not like in 2015. In her quarter-final against Australia in the 2015 edition, she led two minutes from the end against Australia. Following a confusing action, the referee of the match, Craig Joubert, chose to award a penalty in favor of the Wallabies. The Australian opener Bernard Foley had succeeded in his kick and Australia had won by a very small point (35-34). A few days later, the World Rugby organization recognized a refereeing error by Craig Joubert who should not have called a penalty. A difficult decision to swallow for the Scots who, eight years later, dream of returning to both the final phase… and a smile in the World Cup.