Rugby World Cup: Ireland v Scotland Preview5 min read
The opening weekend of the Rugby World Cup throws up familiar European opponents as Six Nations rivals Ireland face Scotland in Yokohama.
Schmidt hoping to bow out on a high
Ireland have climbed to the top of the world rankings but Joe Schmidt’s side are still not seen as one of the most likely winners of the competition.
Their history in the tournament is one of disappointment, having never managed to get past the quarter-final stage. Four years ago, a team crippled by injuries were beaten by Argentina and Schmidt will be determined to finish his tenure on a high.
Ireland’s route out of a group, featuring hosts Japan, looks relatively safe but beyond this the daunting prospect of South Africa or New Zealand lies in wait.
After their Grand Slam triumph in 2018 and their home victory over the All Blacks, Ireland were viewed as strong contenders for the World Cup.
But a poor Six Nations defence in the spring and a series of unconvincing performances, including a hammering at Twickenham by England last month, has eroded confidence and seen their stock fall.
Johnny Sexton’s half-back partnership with Conor Murray will be crucial to their chances and wing Jacob Stockdale will need to make a big impact on his World Cup debut if they are to prolong their campaign.
Scotland aiming to upset Irish
Scotland will have high hopes of reaching the knockout stages although it could all come down to a decider against hosts Japan next month. Gregor Townsend’s side have proved capable of troubling the likes of England and Australia yet folded limply on too many occasions away from home.
This will be a significant hurdle for them to overcome as they adapt to the climate in Asia and attempt to raise their comfort level away from Murrayfield.
There is enough quality in Scotland’s backline with fly-half Finn Russell’s vision and full-back Stuart Hogg’s pace and touch able to cut open teams.
But Scotland have been unable to rid themselves of their soft centre and a brittle defence could be exposed in Japan.
Ireland have had the better of recent meetings between the teams, beating Scotland in six of the last seven clashes.
The most recent encounter saw Schmidt’s side claim a 22-13 victory at Murrayfield in February with tries from Stockdale, Murray and Keith Earls.
Ireland are 1/4 favourites to win this weekend’s opener in Yokohama with Scotland 29/10 to pull off an upset.
Although Ireland have had their problems this year, Schmidt’s team still should have the upper hand against opponents they know only too well.
Ireland have the ability to win penalties and kick points through the consistency of Sexton’s boot and this will be a useful asset in a potentially attritional battle in the rain.
With Ireland fancied to edge this contest, it looks worth backing them to grind their way to a narrow lead, by no more than seven points, at half-time at odds of 9/4.
Tip: Ireland to be winning by 1-7 points in the first half