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Gregor Townsend on why this time it'll be different for Scotland against Ireland

By PA
Gregor Townsend - PA

Gregor Townsend said Scotland are “ready to play their best rugby” as he backed his team to rise to the challenge of having to beat Ireland for the first time in more than six years and prolong their World Cup campaign.

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The Scots must either secure a bonus-point victory or deny the world’s top-ranked side a losing bonus point in the Stade de France on Saturday night if they are to get out of formidable Pool B and reach the quarter-finals.

Townsend billed it as one of the biggest matches his team have ever been involved in but feels they are equipped to deliver when it matters most and knock the rampant Irish – who have won 16 consecutive games – out of the tournament.

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“We have got to deliver what we feel we are capable of which is their best performance as a team when it counts,” he said.

“They are in great physical shape, they have been training really hard for weeks and months and I believe we have had enough experiences now – both good and bad – to handle this occasion. We are really behind this team.”

Asked what makes him believe that Scotland can defeat a team who have beaten them in their last eight meetings, a run stretching back to 2017, Townsend said: “Well, why not? The players have performed in massive games before.

“We were underdogs but we have broken records before, whether it was not winning in Paris (for 22 years, before doing it in 2021), not winning at Twickenham (for 38 years, before doing it in 2021), we hadn’t beaten England for 10 years (before doing it in 2018).

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“This is another opportunity to break another record. We believe in them, we believe in where they are mentally as a group and where they are physically. They are ready to play their best rugby.”

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Scotland will either have to win by at least an eight-point margin or by scoring at least four tries. Townsend insisted that his team will not alter their game-plan significantly because of that situation.

“Our approach would be similar if we were just looking to win the game,” he said.

“There are two scenarios for us to get through, one is eight points and one is to score more tries so it suits how we would approach normal games, which would be to aim to score tries when we are in the opposition 22.

“It’s important that we get those opportunities, Ireland have been very good at not giving up too many opportunities inside their 22 over the last two to three years and that’s a goal for us, to make sure we are in there a few times this weekend.

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“We definitely want to be the team that goes out there fearless with nothing to lose. That’s the way we’ve been thinking and planning this week.”

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Several permutations could come into play as the match evolves, but Townsend has trust in his players to be able to make the right decisions about how to negotiate the business end of proceedings if the qualification situation remains in the balance.

“If it’s a tight game and defences are on top it’s likely to be the eight points gives us the best opportunity,” he said.

“The most important element is scoring points. If things change and go in our favour we have plenty of time to talk about that at half-time or in a huddle during the second half.

“We’re able to communicate with people on the sideline, whether they’re medics or water-carriers, but you want to create an environment where the players are making the decisions.

“We’ve got some very intelligent rugby players and very intelligent people in our team so they won’t need instruction from us. They’ll be coming together and nailing what needs to be done in that next action.”

Townsend expects a box-office occasion to illuminate the World Cup in Paris.

“There have been so many Scots at our last few games and there were a lot of Irish in Paris for their game against South Africa so it will be a cracking atmosphere,” he said. “And there’s jeopardy, there’s something at stake, so it will be one of the best games of the World Cup, I’m sure.”

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Jon 1 days ago
Why Sam Cane's path to retirement is perfect for him and the All Blacks

> It would be best described as an elegant solution to what was potentially going to be a significant problem for new All Blacks coach Scott Robertson. It is a problem the mad population of New Zealand will have to cope with more and more as All Blacks are able to continue their careers in NZ post RWCs. It will not be a problem for coaches, who are always going to start a campaign with the captain for the next WC in mind. > Cane, despite his warrior spirit, his undoubted commitment to every team he played for and unforgettable heroics against Ireland in last year’s World Cup quarter-final, was never unanimously admired or respected within New Zealand while he was in the role. Neither was McCaw, he was considered far too passive a captain and then out of form until his last world cup where everyone opinions changed, just like they would have if Cane had won the WC. > It was never easy to see where Cane, or even if, he would fit into Robertson’s squad given the new coach will want to be building a new-look team with 2027 in mind. > Cane will win his selections on merit and come the end of the year, he’ll sign off, he hopes, with 100 caps and maybe even, at last, universal public appreciation for what was a special career. No, he won’t. Those returning from Japan have already earned the right to retain their jersey, it’s in their contract. Cane would have been playing against England if he was ready, and found it very hard to keep his place. Perform, and they keep it however. Very easy to see where Cane could have fit, very hard to see how he could have accomplished it choosing this year as his sabbatical instead of 2025, and that’s how it played out (though I assume we now know what when NZR said they were allowing him to move his sabbatical forward and return to NZ next year, they had actually agreed to simply select him for the All Blacks from overseas, without any chance he was going to play in NZ again). With a mammoth season of 15 All Black games they might as well get some value out of his years contract, though even with him being of equal character to Richie, I don’t think they should guarantee him his 100 caps. That’s not what the All Blacks should be about. He absolutely has to play winning football.

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