RWC23: Gregor Townsend says Scotland equipped to match Irish physicality

Head coach confident that Jamie Ritchie can be back in time for final World Cup Pool B match

Gregor Townsend says Scotland can match Ireland's physicality and intensity. Image: © Craig Watson -
Gregor Townsend says Scotland can match Ireland's physicality and intensity. Image: © Craig Watson -

IT has been widely hailed as one of the greatest games in World Cup history, but Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend says he saw nothing in Saturday night’s epic battle between Ireland and South Africa to cause him undue concern ahead of a potential World Cup Pool B do-or-die clash against Ireland in two Saturdays’ time.

Ireland – the number one ranked team in the world – eventually squeaked a 13-8 win over South Africa – the reigning champions and number two ranked team in the world – which puts Andy Farrell‘s side firmly in the driving seat to finish top of Pool B.

However, Townsend made it clear after his own side’s 45-17 win over Tonga in Nice on Sunday night that he is unimpressed with the way Scotland’s chances of making it out the pool as either winners or runners-ups have been ignored during the last two days.

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“It [the Ireland versus South Africa game] was intense, but so was our game against South Africa,” said Townsend. “There was a lot of physicality in our Tonga game as well, a lot from us. Remember that Tonga got six jackal turnovers against Ireland.

“So, even though that [Ire v SA] was a big game and went right down to the wire, it was no more physical than the games we have played and the physicality we can bring. We will have to bring that against Ireland, we know that, but we are more than capable of matching what South Africa and Ireland did on Saturday night.

“The result could have gone either way on Saturday night,” he continued. “It was a close Test match but the fact South Africa picked up a bonus point does mean now that it’s a straight shoot-out between us and Ireland if South Africa pick up five points against Tonga, which they might do or they might not.

“If they do, they’ll get to 15 points and we are competing with Ireland to get to 14 points, so we have to get to 10 points against Romania [on Saturday] to make sure it becomes a shootout between us and them.

“If we were to win that Ireland game by more than seven points [and get the same number of try bonus-points], we get through to the quarter-finals. It’s as straightforward as that, but when we’re playing the number one team in the world in two weeks’ time, we know it’s going to be a difficult challenge.

“We believe in our players and there were a lot of positives against Tonga. The physicality, the response our players showed after that defeat against South Africa, the try opportunities we created, we can’t take that for granted. That was a very good performance, but we do set ourselves higher standards and we have to make sure we are clinical all the way through for 80 minutes.

“There were big hits, you could hear the crowd oohing and aahing at every tackle that went in. There were big hits from us and from them, and there were seven tries scored.

“It was a different Test match; we had to front up physically and we did that. We had a platform there to score more points but we’ve got to be very happy with a 45-point win having not played for two weeks, and when we know we now have to do it the hard way to get out of this group.


“Our focus now is on recovering as quickly as possible, then getting the team selected and together that is going to play Romania. We’ll look ahead to Ireland when it comes.

“I thought the players were very professional in their build-up to the Tonga game. They worked really hard. It was a long wait to play the game after a defeat, and really that’s our World Cup getting going now.

“The fans were brilliant, [and] our players got the win that sets us up. We’re still in this tournament. We need two wins and we have to do certain things in those victories to get out of our pool and, yes, it will be very difficult, but I believe in this team and that we can achieve that.

“If we play to our potential, there will be try-scoring opportunities against Romania, but we’ve got to make sure we do the basics right – our discipline, our set-piece, our contact, our work off the ball.”

The big negative from Sunday’s match was the concussion suffered by captain Jamie Ritchie, which now makes him a doubt for the Ireland game – although Townsend was optimistic about the player’s prospects.

“There’s a graduated return to play process. George Horne and Ewan Ashman both got concussed at training before the South Africa game, and the graduated return means there are three days of rest then you step up to do running, skills then graduated contact,” he explained.

“By the time we get to next week, if Jamie has got through the tests at the beginning of that process, then he should be fine to have a normal training week.

“We will do Tuesday and Wednesday sessions in that Ireland week, so he should be back fully integrated by the middle of that week.”

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About David Barnes 4026 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.


  1. There are two areas that we need to get right especially against Ireland- 1) set piece, 2) execution. When we beat them last in 2017 at Murrayfield we executed brilliantly, two well taken Hogg tries and an impish Dunbar line out steal to barge over the whitewash. So many times against Ireland our execution lets us down. The Irish believe they have a gameplan that simply suffocates us at source and invariably they are right. They will put immense pressure on us at scrum time, line out time and also will deploy an aggressive high line of defence. They will also target Russell as they believe he makes us tick. Big Duhan has yet to perform anywhere close to his best levels against the men in green, he has been very quiet against them in recent outings. I am hoping there is a game against Ireland that the bigman will be a force of nature, lets hope its in this one.

  2. I’m afraid for Scotland, I just cannot see them make any headway at the breakdown against Ireland, and cannot seem to match them in this area, which then kills Scotland’s attempt at a fast game, and the only way they’ll stretch the Irish. Past form & history suggests the Irish will win with something to spare 🤷‍♂️
    I hope to be proved wrong though, c’mon 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿, if there’s going to be a complete 80 mins this is the game to show it 👍

  3. I think our physicality has stood up well through the warm up games and at the world cup. The real question is do we have a winning plan for a smothering rush defence.

  4. One thing that does give me hope is that the Irish performance was not as great as the result suggests. Don’t get me wrong, they are very good and Scotland would have to be at their very best to have a chance. Irish lineout malfunctioned numerous times, SA twice and one of those was a squint throw in on the Irish line. The Irish scrum was under more pressure than the Scottish starting scrum but managed to “ milk” 3 penalties from the SA scrum which resulted in 2 converted penalties ( one resulting from the faintest of touches by an SA player from a failed drop kick) and the 3rd penalty came when defending their own line. Take a couple a very narrow escapes in the first half and 11 points from missed kicks the Irish got the breaks. I would expect SA to beat the Irish if they played them again. All I’m saying is don’t give up and let’s hope Scotland produce their finest WC performance under GT. No


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