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How Huw Jones rates Scotland three games into Summer Nations series

By PA
(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Huw Jones is adamant Scotland are not fazed by sharing a heavyweight Rugby World Cup group with the might of Ireland and South Africa. The fact the draw was made in 2020 has led to a top-heavy Pool B containing three of the five best teams in the world on current form.

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With Ireland ranked number one, and world champions South Africa fourth on the list, the burgeoning Scots – despite being up to fifth themselves – will be up against it to reach the knockout phase.

However, three tightly-contested games against second-ranked France this year – including last Saturday’s agonising 30-27 defeat in Saint-Etienne – allied to strong periods against the likes of New Zealand and Ireland over the past year – have given the Scots genuine hope that they can finish in the top two in their section and progress to the latter stages.

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Predicting Pool B’s winner | The Breakdown

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Predicting Pool B’s winner | The Breakdown

“It is a tough pool, and if people see us as underdogs we don’t mind that,” said centre Jones. “We know how good we can be and a game like Saturday’s, against a side ranked second in the world, gives us a lot of confidence.

“We think we can beat anyone, it’s just about putting together a complete performance. We are not fazed by the group. We are really looking forward to it, but we know we need to be at our best to beat the top teams and get out of our pool.”

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The Scots have lost 32-21 and 30-27 in their two away matches against the formidable French this year, while they defeated Les Bleus 25-21 at Murrayfield earlier this month. All three matches against the highly-fancied World Cup hosts incorporated strong fightbacks from Gregor Townsend’s side.

Jones feels if they can cut out the minor issues that are leaving them trailing in the first place, they are playing well enough to fancy their chances against any opposition. “We weren’t really happy with our first-half performance at home to France but we were a lot better in the second half,” said Jones.

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“Then in Saint-Etienne, against France’s strongest team, it was a more complete performance in terms of the full 80 minutes, although it’s still about those small margins for us.

“We feel like we are there and thereabouts but there is also stuff we can work on. Saturday will spur us on to improve even more. We always want to win but a narrow loss like that away to one of the top teams in the world is good for the confidence.

“We know we can go toe-to-toe with the best and we feel we can win those games. We take confidence from that but we also know there are areas we have to tighten up in and not make a couple of silly errors that can cost us close games.

“Going out to France twice this year and running them so close in those games gives us real confidence, especially as the World Cup is out there.”

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As long as there are no slip-ups against Georgia in their final warm-up match at Murrayfield a week on Saturday, the Scots will head out to France at the start of September on the back of an encouraging summer campaign in which they have already defeated Italy and France in Edinburgh.

“We’re feeling good,” said Jones. “It’s been a tough pre-season. The fitness is there and the game fitness is coming along. We have got one more game against Georgia to really sharpen up and then we are into the tournament.

“We are in a really good place but we want to win that game against Georgia and put in a really good performance, which will give us confidence going into that first game against South Africa.”

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William 2 hours ago
All Blacks vs England takeaways: Richie Who? Time for Cortez

Correct analysis of Perofeta’s bungling of the try opportunity Ben. Never ‘fixed’ Steward as he came across in defence and passed too early. Steward didn’t have to break his stride and simply moved on to pressure Telea. Never scanned the easier option of passing to the two supporting players on the inside. Beauden Barrett showed how it is done when he put Telea in for his try. Another point from the game is that the rush defence is hard to maintain as the number of phases increases. From scrums the defensive line only contains backs who all have roughly the same pace. Once forwards are involved, the defence has players with variable speeds often leading to a jagged line. It also tends to lose pace overall giving the attack more time and space. Beauden Barrett’s break to set up Telea’s try came because Baxter went in to tackle McKenzie and Steward went out to cover Telea. Barrett has a massive hole to run through, then commits Steward by passing as late as possible and Telea scores untouched. Another comment I would make is that Ben Earl is a good player and generally an excellent defender but he made three significant misses in the series, two of which led to All Black tries. Got stepped by Perofeta in Dunedin for Savea’s try, missed McKenzie in Auckland leading to what should have been a certain try being set up by Perofeta and was one of the tacklers who couldn’t stop Savea in the leadup to Telea’s first try. Perhaps he should contact Owen Farrell to pick up a few tips from ‘tackle school’.

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