Following an 84-0 win for Scotland over Romania in Lille on Saturday, here’s our five takeaways from the Rugby World Cup clash.
The top line
Scotland did everything they could in their demolition of Romania to prepare for their biggest Test in an age next weekend against the world number one, Ireland.
It was a compelling display of pacy, skilled running rugby from what was effectively a second string Scottish side, but the performances of several players will give head coach Gregor Townsend one of the best selectorial headaches.
A brilliant first-half hat-trick for winger Darcy Graham was at the centre of the Scots’ display, alongside 29 points, including a try, from the outstanding fly-half Ben Healy, as Townsend’s men fired with ball in hand.
For their part, Romania will wonder about their discipline which saw three yellow cards destroy their chances of competing and it will be particularly disappointing for their exciting attack that they were again nilled.
Graham’s four-try scoring antics will steal the headlines, but elsewhere we saw the attacking side of the brilliant Chris Harris, a tremendous shift from Cam Redpath, Healy and Hamish Watson, all of whom put their hands in the air for consideration.
Watson’s omission has been a combination of niggling injury and the form of others but the openside was back to his pinballing best, carrying well for the opening try. But it was the performance of Harris that really caught the eye. Powerful into contact is a given for this man but his passing and offloading were absolutely magnificent, and his handling was featured in six of Scotland’s tries.
With Javan Sebastian also offering some real value with a couple of barrelling runs and a good display in scrummage, Townsend has a lot to think about when he picks his 23 for Ireland.
As a high skill, high pace team, Scotland are one of the best sides in the world to watch, of that there is no question. Sure, this was Romania, but the Scots’ systems, running lines and attacking moves are identical whether they play their first team, their second team, Romania or Ireland, and they’re absolutely joyous to see.
Tonight they used their 9/12 play as an absolute key to unlocking Romania; Ali Price throwing a long miss pass to Redpath, Healy looping around to pop to Graham off his wing. This is classic Townsend, a move played at pace, on the edge of the gain line and with immense skill, and one we see time and time again through Duhan van der Merwe and Kyle Steyn.
It’s to Townsend’s credit that his systems and his vision for his team are so transferable and he is blessed with a group of players with the ambition and skills to deliver them.
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) September 30, 2023
For Romania this was another mismatch but, given the interest of the Oaks in their country, this year’s tournament is only one stepping stone for them. Gabriel Vasile Rupanu put in a fantastic display of pacy running from the base and, alongside Alin Conache and Tangimana Fonovai, they have the midfield skills and running ability to open any defences, as Rupanu did on a number of occasions with Scotland.
But their organisation and work rate in defence are well outside the levels of Test nations. The slowness for players to recycle themselves back into the defensive line was particularly noticeable and that, combined with the card issues, gave Scotland far too much space to operate in.
Nevertheless, this has been a learning year for Romania and, given the midfield options they have, there’s a platform available to build upon.
The week ahead
It is all going to be about Ireland v Scotland, literally now the biggest match of the Rugby World Cup thus far. For it to be this way, given Scotland are now a top five side in the world, makes a mockery of the seeding decision three years ago and, if Townsend’s men are knocked out, they can count themselves very unlucky.
But they have the ability to take matters into their own hands and they also have the artillery to beat any team in the world, and this next week will see Scotland’s selection come under the greatest scrutiny. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see this evening’s outstanding men – Watson, Graham and even Harris – included, all extremely experienced Test players in the sharpest of form.
Every neutral will be behind Scotland. That’s exactly the sort of team they are – admirable – but they’re also good enough to walk away with five points next weekend if things go right for them. It’s going to be an absolute blockbuster.