Ireland v Scotland preview: Andy Farrell’s charges to send Scots packing

Jared Wright
A split image of Ireland flyhalf and captain Johnny Sexton and Scotland playmaker Finn Russell

Ireland's Johnny Sexton and Scotland's Finn Russell during the Rugby World Cup.

Ireland and Scotland face off to decide the final rankings in Pool B of the Rugby World Cup as the two nations battle it out to remain in the hunt for the William Webb Ellis Cup.

For Ireland, it is simple. Win the match and remain in Paris.

It is far more complicated for Scotland, as they will need to end a five-year losing streak against the men in green and do so convincingly. They will pack their bags and head home in the group stages again if they don’t.

For Gregor Townsend’s men, that will be an arduous task as they front up against a side that has won their last 16 Test matches on the bounce, a feat only seven tier-one men’s teams have achieved – four of which were New Zealand.

Still this will be no walkover. Despite the recent history, this is still a fierce rivalry and one only intensified by what is on the line.

Ireland will not be complacent, and Scotland will be desperate. This has all the makings of another Rugby World Cup classic.

This will be the 142nd edition of this fixture, with Ireland leading 69-67 with five draws. It will be the third time they meet at a World Cup, with Scotland winning the first clash 24-15 in 1991 and Ireland beating the Scots 27-3 in Yokohama in 2019.

Where the game will be won

Both teams have excellent attacking patterns, but they will need sound launch pads to make the most of them, meaning that the set-pieces will be crucial.

Ireland’s lineout was put under the cosh against South Africa, but it has still been a rich source of tries, with Andy Farrell’s charges scoring 11 times in the World Cup from the set-piece – a tally only matched by New Zealand. Meanwhile, Scotland have yet to score from lineouts within 10 metres of the opposition’s line, failing on four attempts.

Scotland have also been more lethal on turnover ball, so they will look to apply the pressure from the set-piece and force Ireland into errors while the Irish pack will be out to continue to the Scots’ woes at the lineout, an area where they have usually been able to capitalise on.

The lineout is a weapon for both teams, and the ability to limit the opposition’s success will go a long way in deciding the result.

Last time they met

What they said

Ireland’s forwards coach Paul O’Connell spoke about how, from now on, it is effectively knockout rugby for the top-ranked side in the world and explained how the side has been successful in winning over such a long period.

“That is exactly what it is now for us this weekend,” the ex-Test lock said.

“We are aware of the permutations, but the focus really is on winning.”

On consistently backing up big results, he added: “Being able to not rely massively on emotion is a big part of it. It’s always a big strength of ours how much the lads love playing for Ireland and how important the history of the team is.

“The lads love playing for each other, love playing for Ireland and pulling on the jersey and what it means and all that. But that is the icing on the cake now rather than the whole cake.

“In fairness, it would have come in under Joe [Schmidt] – that ability to focus on what is right in front of you and not get too far ahead of yourself.

“They have a big appetite for just getting better and improving, both individually and as a group. When you get into that, you acknowledge the significance of what might happen if you win a game, sure, but you’re able to ignore it as well.”

Meanwhile, Scotland’s defence coach Steve Tandy looked forward to the challenge and said there was no better time to beat Ireland, having failed to do so since 2017.

“Over the last few years, I know we haven’t knocked over Ireland, but there is always that first time, and it would be special to do it on the weekend,” he said.

“We focus on ourselves; we have an unbelievable opportunity in the World Cup to play Ireland. It will be an amazing atmosphere, and the boys have put in some good performances in France. So we are super excited about the opportunity and getting out there on Saturday night.”

With the permutations weighing heavily on the outcome of the pool, Tandy added that it didn’t change Scotland’s mindset too much.

“It’s minor; you have to concentrate on your side,” he said.

“I don’t think you can think too far ahead too early. They are an outstanding team, but it’s about focusing on what we do, and the later the game goes, you’ll obviously be aware of things, of what the permutations are. But ultimately, the focus will be winning the game.”

Players to watch

It will be a special occasion for Ireland flanker Peter O’Mahony, who will earn his 100th Test cap for his country on Saturday. He becomes the 10th Irish player to reach the milestone. The 34-year-old continues to be a key figure in the pack for Farrell’s side, ranking in the top five for attacking and defensive breakdown hits for his side while also being an excellent lineout jumper.

Staying in the Irish pack, Dan Sheehan earns his first start of the World Cup after missing the opening two games through injury and coming off the bench in the third. The livewire hooker has a knack for racking up tries, and while he is a joy to watch with the ball in hand, he is just as effective at the breakdown and defensively too.

James Lowe has scored just once this Rugby World Cup, but the winger’s impact cannot be understated, particularly after a standout performance against the Springboks. His rocket left boot has come in handy for Ireland while he showed off his defensive prowess – something that was deemed a weakness of his previously – against the Boks, landing a superb hit on Eben Etzebeth while thriving at the breakdown, too.

Lowe does have a different kind of challenge on his hands this week as he goes toe-to-toe with the rapid Darcy Graham. The Scottish pocket rocket has quickly racked up seven try involvements in his three games, scoring five and assisting two. He was remarkably prolific against Romania, running in four tries and while Ireland will provide a sterner task, give Graham have a chance, and he will take it.

If Scotland are to continue their World Cup journey, they will need to restrict Ireland’s breakdown as Farrell’s side has scored tries from 10+ phases on three occasions and have made a tournament-high of 17 entries into the opposition’s 22. Crucial to their efforts will be openside flanker Rory Darge, who has made all 30 of his tackles in the tournament and has more defensive ruck entries than any other Scotland player. The dynamo back-rower is superb over the ball and will need to be at the top of his game to stifle the Irish attack and provide his side opportunities to counter-attack from.

Finally, fullback Blair Kinghorn is another player celebrating a milestone as he earns his 50th Test cap for his country. Following the retirement of Stuart Hogg, Kinghorn has taken over the number 15 jumper and thrived in the role. A genuine handful with ball in hand, he could be a real threat to the Irish defence.

Main head-to-head

Ireland captain Jonny Sexton last lost a match against a Scottish team, whether it be on the club or international stage, 12 years ago (via Kevin Millar), with the fly-half winning the last 24 games consecutively. However, if Scotland are to end that streak, the performance of Finn Russell against Sexton will be crucial.

It is likely to be the final clash between the two British and Irish Lions pivots. The pair are masterful orchestrators of their respective attacks and have been central to several clutch plays and winning moments over the years.

If this encounter does prove to be a close one, then the performances of the two number 10s will play a significant role in the outcome of the match, whether it is through their game management, individual brilliance or accuracy from the tee.


Scotland will certainly fancy their chances of causing an upset, and rightly so, as they do have the talent and quality in their ranks to defeat Ireland. However, they will need to be at their absolute best and may need the bounce of the ball to go their way, too. Even when Ireland have not been at their peak over the past 18 months, they have found a way to eke out a result, and Saturday should be no different. With Scotland likely to be chasing the game a result in the latter stages, we predict that Ireland will capitalise on any mistakes and win the match by more than 10 points. Even if Scotland are able to rattle the world’s top ranked side, it will not be by enough of a margin to end Ireland or South Africa’s tournament.

Previous results

2023: Ireland won 7-22 at Murrayfield
2022: Ireland won 26-5 in Dublin
2021: Ireland won 27-24 at Murrayfield
2020: Ireland won 31-16 in Dublin
2020: Ireland won 19-12 in Dublin
2019: Ireland won 27-3 in Yokohama
2019: Ireland won 22-13 at Murrayfield
2018: Ireland won 28-8 in Dublin

The teams

Ireland: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Mack Hansen, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 James Lowe, 10 Johnny Sexton (c), 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Caelan Doris, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 Iain Henderson, 4 Tadhg Beirne, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Dan Sheehan, 1 Andrew Porter
Replacements: 16 Ronan Kelleher, 17 David Kilcoyne, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 James Ryan, 20 Jack Conan, 21 Conor Murray, 22 Jack Crowley, 23 Stuart McCloskey

Scotland: 15 Blair Kinghorn, 14 Darcy Graham, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Sione Tuipulotu, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ali Price, 8 Jack Dempsey, 7 Rory Darge, 6 Jamie Ritchie (c), 5 Grant Gilchrist, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 George Turner, 1 Pierre Schoeman
Replacements: 16 Ewan Ashman, 17 Rory Sutherland, 18 WP Nel, 19 Scott Cummings, 20 Matt Fagerson, 21 Luke Crosbie, 22 George Horne, 23 Ollie Smith

Date: Saturday, October 7
Venue: Stade de France, Paris
Kick-off: 21:00 local (20:00 BST, 19:00 GMT)
Referee: Nic Berry (Australia)
Assistant Referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Jordan Way (Australia)
TMO: Brett Cronan (Australia)

READ MORE: Rugby World Cup team tracker: All the line-ups for the final round of the pool stages