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.
“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.”