SCOTLAND captain Stuart McInally says that his team are aware of the complicated arithmetic which surrounds their potential route to a World Cup quarter-final appearance, but they will not allow concern over accumulating bonus points to dramatically alter their approach to tomorrow’s match against Samoa [kick-off: 7.15pm local time/11.15am BST].
While Japan’s shock win over Ireland on Saturday was a great moment for the tournament and the sport in general, it also opened up a raft of possible outcomes in Pool A, which boils down to this –
- If Ireland beat Samoa and Russia with bonus points, they will finish with 16 points and will, at worst, qualify for the quarter-finals as second placed team in Pool A.
- If Scotland win all three remaining games with bonus points, they will end up on 15 points.
- In which case, if Japan beat Samoa with a bonus point, but lose to Scotland without a bonus point, they will have 14 points and finish third in the pool and miss out on the quarter-finals.
- If Japan beat Samoa with a bonus point then pick up a single bonus point in defeat against Scotland (for finishing within seven points or scoring four tries), they will end up on 15 points, at which stage Scotland will still go through in second place on the head-to-head rule.
- If Japan beat Samoa with a bonus point then pick up two bonus points in defeat against Scotland (for finishing within seven points and scoring four tries), they will end up on 16 points and ahead of Scotland.
- Alternatively, if Scotland register bonus-point wins over Samoa and Russia then beat Japan without a bonus point, but also prevent the Japanese getting a bonus point, both teams will have 14 points and Scotland will go through on the head-to-head rule.
- But if Scotland register bonus-point wins over Samoa and Russia then beat Japan without a bonus point leaving them on 14 points, while Japan pick up a bonus point in that game to finish on 15 points, then the host nation will go through.
- If Scotland, Ireland and Japan all end the pool stages on 15 points then the pool is decided on points difference.
The bottom line is that Scotland need to pick up bonus point wins in their next two games against Samoa and Russia, then see what the shakedown looks like going into what promises to be a hyper-tense pool decider against Japan in Yokohama on 13th October.
However, Samoa will want to have their own say in how the pool plays out, and given how tight their last six games against Scotland have been, they will go into this match fully believing that they can pick up a win which will keep them in the hunt for their first appearance in a quarter-final since 1995.
Scotland have won five of the last six games between the two side but none of those games by more than seven points, while Samoa’s only victory was by 10 points in the summer of 2013.
“We obviously watched the Japan game and we’ve done the numbers,” said McInally, at the eve of match press conference at Kobe Misaki Stadium earlier today [Sunday]. “We know the implications and what it could mean for us, but we just have to go out and win the game first and foremost.
“In my experience, if you start chasing anything else before the game starts then you can get into a bit of trouble. So, we’ll go out, try to win the game and if we’re in a position in the last 20 minutes to go for that bonus point then of course we’re aware of what we have to do.
“We’re just focussed on the next game. I feel we have to focus on beating Samoa because that’s a big challenge. They are a really good side who put a lot of points on Russia and didn’t concede a try. So, we’re very aware of the threat they have.
“Nothing changes for us,” he stresses. “The task is still the same. It may be a little harder in terms of needing bonus points now, but, ultimately, we’re just going to need to win all of our games to get out of the pool. That wouldn’t have changed whether we’d beaten Ireland or not, we still need to win all our games because you don’t know what else is going to happen. Nothing changes for us as a group.
“We’ll be looking to start well and be physical against a team like Samoa who have that threat, make sure we’re able to match that,” he added. “But they will be dangerous for more than five minutes and we know with the quality players they have up front and in their backline that they can cause us problems for the whole 80 minutes if we’re not switched on.”
Meanwhile, a family reunion is on the cards for Scotland winger Sean Maitland, whose cousin Pele Cowley is on the bench for Samoa.
“My mum is half-Samoan, my grandad was born in Samoa and emigrated to New Zealand in the 1960s, and my little cousin is actually on the bench for Samoa tomorrow,” explained New Zealand born Maitland. “So, its special for the family. We have a big contingent coming over for this game tomorrow. It should be good.
“We grew up together. It’s pretty crazy where rugby takes you on this journey. He got injured the last World Cup – he was meant to play against us in Newcastle and that was a pretty cool game to play in and I’m sure tomorrow night is going to be similar. I can’t wait and hopefully he gets on and I get one up on him.”
Cowley played against Scotland when Samoa visited Murrayfield in November 2017 but Maitland wasn’t involved that day, so this is the first time the pair have faced each other in an international match.