- Sexton highlights importance of focus
- Irish still not guaranteed passage from high quality Pool B
- Farrell’s side favourites after impressive win over Springboks
Ireland captain Johnny Sexton has emphasised the team’s unwavering concentration on their imminent encounter with Scotland, steering clear of premature talk of lifting the Webb Ellis Cup, as they strive to sidestep the pitfalls of past World Cup campaigns.
Ireland fully focussed on Scotland task
A hard-fought 13-8 victory over South Africa on Saturday has placed the Irish tantalisingly close to a coveted quarter-final berth, likely pitting them against France or New Zealand.
Despite Ireland, the number one ranked team in the world, conquering the defending champions, a slot in the knockout stages hangs on the clash against Scotland.
Sexton, a seasoned fly-half with three previous World Cup exits at the quarter-final stage, underscores the imperative of maintaining a present-focused perspective.
“Now it’s all about Scotland. We’re not thinking about anything beyond that.” Sexton asserted, acknowledging the quality of the Scottish side.
“Scotland are an excellent team. I think that they would be frustrated about how they played against South Africa [an 18-3 loss on September 10].
“It’s all geared up towards that game now and making sure that we do what’s required to try and win the pool.
“But we can’t look beyond the next game. This competition will hurt you, that’s the biggest lesson we can take from the last few World Cups.”
Following their triumph over South Africa, Ireland is set to return to Stade de France on October 7 to face Gregor Townsend’s squad. Head coach Andy Farrell views the hard-fought victory as ideal groundwork for forthcoming challenges.
“Let’s be honest, it’s wonderful to win, but there was not much in it between two good sides,” said Farrell.
“I think the best thing about it for us is we get to feel the intensity of a big game within this World Cup and know what that feels like for further down the line.
“How we are able to be a little bit more composed, be a little bit more accurate and play our game a little bit more. It’s invaluable to be able to learn those lessons with a win.”
Farrell went on to highlight the team’s defensive tenacity during the contest, emphasising how it augurs well for their resolve and determination throughout the remainder of the competition.
“But what I would say is when you love defending as much as we did within that game, it stands us in good stead as far as our want and our fight for the rest of competition.”
After their superb win over South Africa, Ireland are the bookies favourites to lift the trophy. However, such is the quality of Pool B, that Ireland cannot be sure of progress and still have a job to do against a good quality Scotland side, who will be determined to secure a quarter-final berth themselves.
Given the way the tournament has panned out so far, South Africa getting a bonus point win over Tonga, and Scotland doing the same against Romania, are extremely likely.
This means that if Ireland lose to Scotland, then they will likely finish on the same points and be eliminated from the tournament on the head-to-head.
A losing bonus point against Scotland would probably see Ireland through, as it would be unlikely for the Scots to score four tries against the Irish defence. Two bonus points in a win over Scotland would guarantee that Ireland advance to the quarters as group winners.
There is also the possibility of three teams finishing on the same points. This would only occur if Scotland got a try bonus point and a win against the Irish, with Ireland only getting a single bonus point.
However, the manner of Ireland’s win over South Africa has led to the bookies installing Farrell’s side as favourites. However, bet365 are also clearly impressed with the Springboks, making them joint favourites, with both nationals priced at 3/1 at the time of writing. They have France next in line at 7/2 and New Zealand at 4/1. England and Wales have both moved up in the pecking order after impressive pool stage performances so far, with Steve Borthwick’s side currently priced at 10/1 and the Welsh at 22/1.
Odds are correct at the time of writing and are subject to change.