Rugby World Cup: Scotland ready to "smash" Irish darling Johnny Sexton again
Assistant coach Matt Taylor says Scotland will target Ireland linchpin Johnny Sexton in the World Cup clash in Yokohama in exactly the same way they did during the Six Nations in Edinburgh earlier this year.
Sexton went off with a head injury half an hour into Ireland’s 22-13 win that day, which prompted much bleating from the Irish.
The stand-off took some big hits in that game that afternoon, the last of which from prop Allan Dell ended his match, but Taylor, the Scotland defence coach, is unapologetic about the tactics deployed against the world player of the year.
“We did a good a job on him and I think a lot of teams took a leaf out of our book in terms of getting up and trying to smash him,” said Taylor in Tokyo ahead of the eagerly anticipated Pool A match.
“He [Sexton] is a brave player, he plays it right to the line. They’ve kept him a bit wrapped in cotton wool the last period because he has taken a lot of hits and knocks.”
Ireland back-rower Peter O'Mahony has backed Sexton, and his half-back partner Conor Murray to "look after themselves" against the Scots, with stand-off Finn Russell in their sights.
Scrum-half Murray hit out at Glasgow's "very dangerous" attempts to take out his standing leg when kicking back in a European clash in January 2017.
“Look, it hasn't come into our thinking. It's a Test game, half-backs are always targeted," O'Mahony said.
"We’ve already spoken about Finn Russell. If you can get to the other team's playmakers it gives you an advantage and that isn't something that's new in Test rugby.
"And it isn't going to be any different tomorrow. So front-foot ball, solid set-piece, having the ability to get ourselves into the game and starting well is paramount for us. So Johnny and the boys are well able to look after themselves.”
Win, lose or draw against Ireland, Taylor knows that Scotland’s next pool game against Samoa in Kobe a week on Monday will be huge, either in terms of maintaining momentum or salvaging hopes of reaching the quarter-finals.
The defence coach revealed that the final pool match against the Pacific islanders four years ago, which Scotland squeaked 36-33 to progress, was one of the most frustrating of his career. The already-eliminated Samoans, who had been hit by some negative media headlines during a damp squib of a campaign in which they lost to Japan, cut loose that day in Newcastle and ripped the Scots to shreds on a number of occasions.
“That is one of the most stressful games I have been involved in. It is funny how tournaments work. We were probably three minutes from not getting out of the group. The following week when we played Australia we were three minutes away from being in the semi-final so it is funny how things can hinge on small moments.
“We watched [footage of Samoa] yesterday and they are a very good side. With time together, when they get their best players together, they are very good.
“They will pose a different problem to the one Ireland will. They are very good at unstructured play like a lot of island teams are. They play wide to wide and have explosive ball carriers, they will probably play a bit more unstructured rugby whereas Ireland are structured and set-piece orientated.”