Scotland coach Gregor Townsend said that the scale of his side’s challenge at the next World Cup was laid bare when the draw for Japan 2019 was announced yesterday.
The Scots start their Pool A campaign in Yokohama on Wednesday Sept 22 against Ireland, whom they beat on their only previous World Cup meeting in at Murrayfield in 1991, before playing two minnows and then rounding off their pool games against hosts Japan on Oct 13 also in the iconic International Stadium in Yokohama.
“Obviously there’s a lot of excitement that comes with knowing who you’re playing, when and at what venues,” said Townsend. “We’ll face a real challenge in all of our games, starting with Ireland who are currently ranked fourth in the World Rugby Rankings. Facing Ireland in the opening round really focuses the mind on just how big a challenge this tournament is going to be, on top of the prospect of facing the hosts, who had a brilliant World Cup in 2015.”
As well as playing Ireland and Japan, who pulled off the biggest shock in rugby history when they beat the Springboks at the 2015 World Cup, Scotland are also likely to face Samoa and Romania in a tough pool.
Scotland’s second game will be against the play-off winners on Sept 30 in Kobe – virtually certain to be autumn international opponents Samoa – whom Scotland beat 36-33 in a pool match in Newcastle at the 2015 World Cup. Their third game, which takes place on Oct 9 in Shizuoka, is against Europe 1 – likely to be Romania.
The Scotland head coach is heading out to Japan after the autumn internationals. Scotland, who narrowly won both of their 2016 tour games in Japan, were struck by the extremely hot and humid conditions in September and will be holding a camp in Nagasaki prior to the tournament to help their players acclimatise.
While many of the players who will form the backbone of Scotland’s side at the World Cup have been stood down from the Glasgow team to face Leinster in the Pro14 at Scotstoun this evening, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that George Horne could push for inclusion in Japan. The young scrum-half was outstanding last week while scoring a try and winning the man of the match award in the routine win over Southern Kings, and is rewarded with a first start alongside brother Peter.
“We thought George was excellent last week so we just wanted to back that up with a reward of starting this week,” said Warriors coach Dave Rennie. “We are very happy with this combination, knowing that we’ve got a good bench, with three international boys covering the back-line.”
Horne has been working intensively with Glasgow coach and former Lions scrum-half, Mike Blair, and Rennie believes that playing alongside older brother Peter will fast-track his development. “I really rate Peter, he’s an outstanding player who is as good at 10 as he is at 12,” said Rennie.
“He’s got a lot of experience and knowledge – he’s one of our leaders so he ticks a lot of boxes. I’m keen to get Peter on the field somewhere and our midfielders have been going pretty well it makes sense to play him at 10. I’m sure George will do what he’s told by his brother.”
With former Manawatu captain Callum Gibbins leading the team for the first time from openside, this is a much-changed side from the one outmuscled by Leinster in the Champions Cup a fortnight ago.
That said, loosehead Jamie Bhatti, second row Tim Swinson, Horne, centre Sam Johnson, Gibbins and hooker George Turner all started for Glasgow two weeks ago, while only hooker Sean Cronin and second row Scott Vardy remain from the Leinster side who so impressed last time out.
Yet with Rennie lauding Leinster’s strength in depth, while the Warriors’ shortcomings – ruthlessly exposed by Leinster – still to be tested at the top level, beating a Leinster side whose only loss this season was a narrow reversal at Ulster will be a big test.
Glasgow (v Leinster, Scotstoun, KO 7.35pm):
R Jackson; L Masaga, N Grigg, S Johnson, N Matawalu; P Horne, G Horne; J Bhatti, G Turner, D Rae, T Swinson, S Cummings, R Harley, C Gibbins (captain), M Fagerson.
Replacements: P MacArthur, A Allan, A Nicol, L Wynne, M Smith, H Pyrgos, A Dunbar, L Sarto.
J Larmour; A Byrne, R O’Loughlin, C O’Brien, D Kearney; R Byrne, J Gibson-Park; E Byrne, S Cronin, M Bent, R Molony, M Kearney, S Fardy, J Murphy, M Deegan. Replacements: R Strauss, P Dooley, A Porter, J Murphy, D Leavy, N McCarthy, C Marsh, H Keenan.