Pool B has already seen one of the great tension-filled, top-quality, high-stakes Rugby World Cup matches at Stade de France.
South Africa versus Ireland – world champions against the number one ranked side – was one for the ages. Two weeks later, at the same venue and with the stakes higher still, it is very possible the same pool could produce another.
Ireland head coach Andy Farrell has made two changes to his starting side, with Iain Henderson coming into the second row for James Ryan, and Dan Sheehan taking over at hooker from Ronan Kelleher. Flanker Peter O’Mahony will win his 100th Ireland cap.
Scotland have picked themselves up after their opening round defeat to South Africa to record two bonus point wins in a row and give themselves a shot at the last eight. To get there, they have to beat Ireland – something they haven’t managed since 2017.
Second-row Grant Gilchrist, scrum-half Ali Price and right-wing Darcy Graham retain their places in the starting XV after the 84-0 win over Romania, in Gregor Townsend squad, with captain Jamie Ritchie returning at blindside flanker.
FIXTURE: Ireland v Scotland
GROUND: Stade de France, Saint-Denis (80,023)
KICK-OFF: 21:00 local time (GMT+2)
This is one of the oldest international match-ups in rugby history. Ireland and Scotland have played one another 142 times since their first meeting in Belfast in 1877.
Unfortunately for Scotland, who need to win this match, recent results have all gone Ireland’s way. Gregor Townsend has yet to record a victory over the Irish as the national team’s head coach.
Scotland’s last win over Ireland was in the 2017 Six Nations, a few months before Townsend took over. The closest they have come to victory since was at Murrayfield in the 2021 Championship, when Johnny Sexton broke Scottish hearts with a late penalty to give the visitors a 27-24 victory.
KEY TALKING POINT
The qualification maths. Ignore bizarre conspiracy theories doing the rounds on social media – and focus on the sums, because they’re difficult enough.
The simple bit to start: Ireland win and they top the pool, with South Africa also going through to the quarter-finals.
But, if Scotland win, things start to get more complicated:
- if they win and deny Ireland a bonus point, Scotland go through on the head-to-head rule;
- If they win, but Ireland get one bonus point, Ireland finish top of Pool B, ahead of South Africa, with Scotland third;
- If they win with a bonus point and prevent Ireland from getting one, Scotland finish second, behind South Africa, with Ireland third;
- If Scotland win and both teams get a bonus point, then points difference comes into play - to top the pool Scotland must win by 21 points or more, with Ireland qualifying for the quarter-finals ahead of South Africa on the head-to-head-rule;
- South Africa will finish top on points difference, if Scotland win by less than 21 points at Stade de France, but both they and Ireland pick up a bonus point. In this instance, Scotland qualify for the last eight at Ireland’s expense;
- Ireland guarantee top spot if they secure two bonus points.
Got that? Good.
Johnny Sexton v Finn Russell. What other in-match personal challenge could it be, really? Sexton will set a new record for most Ireland appearances against Scotland (16), moving clear of Brian O’Driscoll, Cian Healy, Ronan O’Gara and Rory Best. He is also Ireland’s leading points scorer against Scotland (138). The Scots’ magician Russell, meanwhile, has only been on a winning side against Ireland once in his career. What a time this would be to win his second.
When Ireland played Scotland in the 2023 Six Nations, the ball-in-play time was an astonishing 38 minutes. Heading into this final round of matches at the Rugby World Cup, only three games have had a higher figure: Scotland v Romania, at 39 minutes and 40 seconds, and Wales v Portugal, at 38 minutes and 21 seconds. Another match involving Wales, against Fiji, is next on the list at 37 minutes and 52 seconds. Will this one be as draining for the players?
Nic Berry (Australia). According to the numbers, Berry is more than twice as likely to penalise the defending side than the attacking one. In his two matches in charge to date, he’s blown penalties against defences 27 times, compared to just 12 against the team in attack.
IRELAND Hugo Keenan; Mack Hansen, Garry Ringrose, Bundee Aki, James Lowe; Johnny Sexton (captain), Jamison Gibson-Park; Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan, Tadhg Furlong; Tadhg Beirne, Iain Henderson; Peter O'Mahony, Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris
Replacements: Ronan Kelleher, Dave Kilcoyne, Finlay Bealham, James Ryan, Jack Conan, Conor Murray, Jack Crowley, Stuart McCloskey
SCOTLAND Blair Kinghorn; Darcy Graham, Huw Jones, Sione Tuipulotu, Duhan van der Merwe; Finn Russell, Ali Price; Pierre Schoeman, George Turner, Zander Fagerson; Richie Gray, Grant Gilchrist; Jamie Ritchie (captain), Rory Darge, Jack Dempsey
Replacements: Ewan Ashman, Rory Sutherland, WP Nel, Scott Cummings, Matt Fagerson, Luke Crosbie, George Horne, Ollie Smith