Rugby World Cup: Gregor Townsend and John Barclay relishing crack at world No 1 Irish
Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend has expressed belief that his players were as prepared as they can be to get their campaign off to a flying start against world No 1s Ireland in Yokohama on Sunday.
A campaign which has been months and years in the planning is now almost here and Townsend was emanating a calm confidence that a team packed with international experience are ready to go toe-to-toe with one of the tournament favourites and strike a potentially crucial early blow that fires the Pool A quest for the quarter-finals with early momentum.
“I believe this team are ready to give their best account of themselves,” said Townsend.
“I’ve seen that through the way they’ve trained and acted in the last few days. It’s the opening game of the World Cup, we are playing against the team currently ranked No 1 in the world. We know Ireland are a very good team, we play against them every year.
“You can’t disguise this as anything else than a hugely important game against a very good side.”
Ireland have been able to replace their trio of injured Lions backline stars, Rob Kearney, Keith Earls and Robbie Henshaw, with quality replacements in Jordan Larmour, Andrew Conway and Garry Ringrose.
“I think it will be a really competitive game. If the weather is a factor it will probably limit the scoring, but if it’s not then both teams will be keen to bring out their strengths and keen to pressure the opposition,” added the Scotland coach. “Who knows what that will mean in terms of the scoreboard.
“Both teams have got strong 23s so we feel our bench can make a real impact. There’s real pace there, but their bench is full of experienced players too.”
The likes of Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour, Finn Russell, Greig Laidlaw, Jonny Gray and Ryan Wilson all bring vast experience and co-vice captain John Barclay is the man who brings the most caps of all to a record combined tally of 630 when he wins his 75th in Yokohama on Sunday and graces a Rugby World Cup for the third time.
“I can imagine Ireland will be favourites and that sort of suits us, it’s fine,” said the man who will turn 33 two days after the Ireland clash.
It is worth noting that the Ireland side on Sunday will have a combined caps tally of 679 and that’s without the 170 lost through injuries to Lions pair Rob Kearney and Keith Earls.
“At the end we’ll play and after 80 minutes we’ll find who wins. All the stuff before that is water under the bridge,” said Barclay.
“I think the way they play the game there’s more contacts around that area for the forwards. I don’t think it’s necessarily more physical it’s just that there’s more of it for us to deal with it.
“Normally, when we play, the tackle stats for the forwards are in the high 20s, which is pretty full on but that’s the way they play the game.”
Barclay knows that the clash in Yokohama will be between two sets of players who are familiar with each other.
“We play them enough in the league [Pro14] and in Europe and with Scotland so you know to an extent what’s coming - lots of route one plays, intricacies around that.
“We’ve done analysis, but you don’t know what in the warm-up games is smoke and mirrors, most teams will have held stuff back.
“But we’ve looked at them and now we’ll focus on ourselves from now until the game. It’s almost like the start of the championship, you don’t really know what to expect.”
The additions of Jordan Larmour, Andrew Conway and Garry Ringrose for the injured Kearney, Earls and Robbie Henshaw adds more scope for uncertainty.
But Barclay said: “We know the way Ireland play the game, but from a few changes you brush up a little on your analysis of those guys and the back three are a little different to what it has been.
“But we play against them, most if not all of them play in Ireland and we know their traits pretty well.”
Barclay is looking forward to bringing the band back together as he packs down at blindside alongside his best pals Wilson at No 8 and Hamish Watson at openside.
“We’ve played together last few years when I’ve been fit, but it seems to have been us three.
“Hamish has really come on to his game last season, has taken it to another level for me. He’s very abrasive with the ball. You see how he runs and you don’t think he’s going to be able to do what he does. He’s strong over ball.
“With Ryan you know what you get, he’s physical, he’s confrontational and a very good lineout forward. Two of my best friends in the squad so it’s great to be playing with them.
“Ryan’s not the biggest No 8 and Hamish isn’t the biggest seven either. Maybe there’s a bit of an obsession with big, heavy No 8 or whatever.
“You look at Hamish, just over 100 kilos but he can run through people like nobody else I’ve seen at that sort of weight. I’d rather someone who is a bit lighter and can give you the full 80.”