Scotland World Cup reaction: Gregor Townsend mulls over Ireland clash after Romania win as one fringe player stakes big claim

Gregor Townsend praised his Scotland players for setting up a World Cup shootout with Ireland but warned they must maximise any opportunity they get against the No 1-ranked team.
Scotland's flanker Hamish Watson takes a selfie with supporters after Scotland defeated Romania.Scotland's flanker Hamish Watson takes a selfie with supporters after Scotland defeated Romania.
Scotland's flanker Hamish Watson takes a selfie with supporters after Scotland defeated Romania.

Townsend's team defeated Romania 84-0 in Lille on Saturday night to move on to 10 points in Pool B. They trail Ireland by four going into next weekend’s decider in Paris. If Scotland can beat Andy Farrell’s side and deny them a bonus point both teams will be on 14 points but the Scots would finish above the Irish by virtue of a better head to head record.

However, Scotland have not beaten Ireland since 2017 and never in Townsend’s time as head coach. He believes the way they played against them in this year’s Six Nations offers encouragement, provided they can be more clinical.

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"All the games we’ve played [against Ireland] have been different apart from the fact that we haven’t won in the last seven or eight," said Townsend. “The games that we’ve played better in we’ve certainly put pressure on Ireland on the scoreboard, and we’ve had opportunities to go and win the game, or potentially draw a game – like when we lost by seven points in Dublin in 2020 and definitely left a couple of tries out on the field.

“In 2021 at Murrayfield, it was 24-all going into the last two or three minutes. To reflect on this year’s game, that was probably our best performance for 50 minutes. We had a couple of huge opportunities in the first half. After Duhan [van der Merwe] made a line-break to five metres from the Irish line we lost the ball in contact and then five minutes before half-time we were close to scoring and we got bundled into touch.

“I think in any Test match when you play a side who are really good – and Ireland are now ranked the top team in the world – you have to take your opportunities. But, you’ve got to create them first as well, and the encouraging thing is we have created opportunities. Taking them and playing at a level of intensity and accuracy to the final whistle is important, and that’s always challenging against the top teams, but we believe that our team is capable of doing that."

The Scotland coach was very satisfied with his side's crushing 12-try win over Romania and in particular with the way in which some of the squad’s fringe players performed. Townsend had made 13 changes to the team that beat Tonga 45-17 the previous weekend and sang the praises of Hamish Watson after the flanker's first appearance of the tournament. "I thought he was very good," said Townsend. "He started carrying really well and that gave a big boost to the team. He's trained really well all week and he's in excellent physical shape as well. He showed that."

Watson, who has been usurped by Rory Darge, scored the opening try against Romania. Asked if he had put his hand up for selection for the Ireland game, Townsend said: "Yes, of course. I've not thought about selection, we'll get on to that on Sunday. We'll go onto more detail around ruck clears and tackles and other work but I thought he played well."

Darcy Graham led the way with four tries against Romania and he now has 24 in 38 Tests. It puts him joint second on the all-time Scotland list, level with Tony Stanger and Ian Smith. Stuart Hogg leads the way on 27 and Townsend believes 26-year-old Graham is on course to overhaul his former Scotland team-mate who announced retirement before the World Cup.

"Yes, I think he's someone who will create opportunities to score tries because of his willingness to get on ball," said Townsend. "He saw space and he also is a great finisher. His footwork for the fourth try was incredible. He had a couple of assists as well, so he certainly plays for the team. In the last two games, Darcy's really gone for it and we've seen that in training. Sometimes it's tough when you're a winger and you've not had the game time he would have liked after he picked up that little niggle over the summer but he's now flying and that's brilliant to see."

Graham drew a blank in Scotland's opening defeat by South Africa, then came off the bench to score a superb try against Tonga. His performance in the win over Romania saw him become the first Scotland player to score four tries in a World Cup match since Gavin Hastings against Cote d'Ivoire in 1995. Scotland's other try-scorers in Lille were Ali Price, Matt Fagerson, Chris Harris, Ollie Smith, Ben Healy, Johnny Matthews and Darge.