Brian O’Driscoll and Gavin Hastings are expecting opposing fly-halves Johnny Sexton and Finn Russell to have major says in Sunday's Pool A battle between Ireland and Scotland in Yokohama, but in vastly different ways.
O’Driscoll, who played in four World Cups for the Irish, including alongside Sexton in 2011, is urging his 34-year-old former team-mate to pay heed to his advancing years and stay out of as much physical trouble as possible in order to exert his maximum effect.
While Hastings, who captained Scotland in the 1991 and 1995 tournaments, believes Russell should be given free rein, describing the Racing 92 No 10, who turns 27 on Monday, as “the best passer” among the world’s stand-offs.
Hastings said: “The strength in this Scotland side is in their unpredictability. If we try and play set-piece rugby and play conforming rugby, we are not going to beat the better teams. But I don’t think we will play like that. We’ll try and play with a bit of chaos, as we did against England drawing at Twickenham this year.
“We have got players that seem very comfortable like that. I am not expecting everyone to talk highly of Finn Russell but he is a much better player than some people suggest. If he was wearing an All Black jersey or an Australian or South African jersey, people would be speaking very highly of him.
“People describe Finn as a maverick but he has pulled off bits of skill far too often. He is one of the best passers in world rugby, the best of any stand-off by a long way. He fizzes the ball and takes no time. This might be his stage, but Scotland have to play some attractive rugby. If they get momentum it could be exciting.”
Hastings, who like O’Driscoll is an ambassador for Land Rover, added that Russell’s easy-going temperament contrasts with the “intensity” of Sexton, making him “a different kettle of fish”.And that thrill for the fight is what O’Driscoll wants to see Sexton temper as he enters the twilight years of a stellar career.
“Johnny is a big-game player but you have to look at it in conjunction with the Irish team,” O’Driscoll said. “When they were humming, Johnny was humming. It goes hand in hand, the quality of ball and what he is able to do with it. When the pack isn’t going as well and when you are getting beaten in collisions and playing on the back foot, it is a more difficult game for a No 10. He hasn’t been able to showcase the best of his skillset save for that 20 minutes against Scotland this year where I thought he was excellent.
“And look what happened. He was excellent because he wasn’t minding himself like a [then] 33-year-old should do. He is one of the most aggressive runners to the line that I have seen in international rugby union. But the time comes when you have got to weigh up both options and give a pass half a second earlier – to protect yourself rather than running into a huge collision without the chance to brace. It might get you one try but the next thing you’re [injured] on the sideline. He has got to be mindful of how important he is. If you do a job well enough, that half-second to brace yourself may bring some success.”