Gregor Townsend admits Scotland’s World Cup knockout clashes start now as they shape up for the first of three do-or-die showdowns.
Having lost heavily to Ireland in their Pool A opener last Sunday, the Scots cannot afford any more slip-ups, starting against Samoa in Kobe on Monday.
And Townsend admitted: “It’s been a long week building towards a game where we intend to put a lot of things right.
“The players have responded well in training, know what is required of them and are hungry to deliver the kind of performance that keeps us in the World Cup.
“The reality is we now have to win our next three games to make it out of our pool, so the knockout stages for us begin this Monday night. I firmly believe this group are ready to take on that challenge.”
Magnus Bradbury will go straight into Townsend’s line-up after the head coach reacted to last week’s thrashing from the Irish by changing his entire back row.
The Edinburgh flanker was a late call-up to the squad after replacing Hamish Watson, who has travelled home early after suffering a serious knee injury in the Dark Blues’ disastrous World Cup opener in Yokohama, and will start on the blindside at Kobe’s Misaki Stadium.
Watson’s slot on the openside goes to Jamie Ritchie while vice-captain John Barclay and Ryan Wilson have also lost their places in the starting XV after being out-muscled by Joe Schmidt’s men, with Blade Thomson now starting at number eight against the Pacific Islanders.
Townsend has also made two changes in the back, with centre Chris Harris and wing Darcy Graham taking over from Tommy Seymour and Duncan Taylor.
Townsend added: “Samoa are a team capable of scoring points from anywhere on the field. They play an ambitious brand of rugby and their team is full of skilful and powerful players.
“We had worked hard in our build-up to this tournament to deliver our best rugby but we were well below this level in our opening game against Ireland. We’ll need to be much better on Monday night against such a dangerous opponent.”
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England expect to enter the critical phase of their World Cup group campaign with an entirely fit squad after Mako Vunipola and Jack Nowell played a full part in training on Friday.
But they could lose a player for disciplinary reasons after Piers Francis was cited for a shoulder-led challenge to the head of Will Hooley in the 45-7 victory over the United States at Kobe Misaki Stadium.
If the citing is upheld, Francis is facing a ban in the region of six weeks minus any reduction for mitigating circumstances, potentially ending his involvement in Japan 2019.
With Eddie Jones now turning to his strongest starting XV for every match, however, the Northampton centre’s involvement was likely to be minimal from this stage of tournament anyway.
After sweeping aside Tonga and the USA during the four-day turnaround that opened Pool C, Eddie Jones’ men face clashes with Argentina and France that will determine whether they progress into the knock-out stage.
Vunipola and Nowell have yet to play a part in Japan 2019 due to respective hamstring and knee injuries but they should be in contention for the Tokyo Stadium clash on Saturday week.
“We trained early this morning (Friday) and Mako and Jack are good. At this stage we believe everyone will be available against Argentina,” attack coach Scott Wisemantel said.
Vunipola has become the sport’s foremost loosehead prop but Wisemantel insists he can not expect to walk straight back into the starting front row due to the form of Joe Marler and Ellis Genge.
“Mako gives us something with his ball carrying and energy around the park,” said Wisemantel.
“But the way the boys are going, he’s going to find it hard to get back into the team selection-wise. Joe and Ellis are doing a good job.”
Nowell was unable to play a single minute of the warm-up series because of the injury sustained in last season’s Gallagher Premiership final but his impact off the bench and ability to cover multiple positions makes him invaluable to England.
“Jack adds something different. He is a hybrid really – a winger cum back rower, the way he plays,” Wisemantel said.
Wing Jonny May welcomes the imminent return of two key assets in England’s quest to lift the Webb Ellis Trophy on November 2.
“You want your best players fit and they trained well this morning. Mako is a world class prop so to have him back is brilliant,” May said.
“Jack is world class as well, so to get two players of that standard, raising the standard of everyone around them, is brilliant at this stage of the World Cup.”
Owen Farrell was given a clean bill of health the morning after he was flattened by USA flanker John Quill, who was shown the first red card of the tournament as a result.
Farrell was struck on the chin by Quill’s shoulder-led challenge in the 70th minute of England’s victory at Kobe Misaki Stadium but has shown no adverse effects.
“Owen is fine, he still has his looks,” Wisemantel said.
In the same match, Francis launched himself at Hooley in the opening seconds in a challenge that was missed by the officials, but replays indicated there was contact with full-back’s head.
On the basis of the outcome of citings for similar offences already at this World Cup, the Saints playmaker would be looking a mid-range sanction of a six week suspension reduced to three.
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George North accepts that Australia are “a tough beast to beat” as Wales prepare for a Rugby World Cup showdown against the Wallabies.
The countries clash in a potential Pool D decider at Tokyo Stadium on Sunday.
Wales have beaten Australia once in the last 14 attempts, although that rare victory did come when they last met during the 2018 autumn Tests.
Wing North was among a number of Wales players involved that November afternoon who are set to feature this weekend.
And if the Six Nations champions can deliver a repeat result, then it would put them on a possible quarter-final course to meet potentially France or Argentina.
With Uruguay recording a stunning upset win against Fiji, it means Sunday’s victors would have one foot in the last eight.
“They are a tough beast to beat,” North said.
“They have skills from numbers 1-15, physicality and speed. We have to be on the money straight from the off, concentration from minute one and expect the unexpected.
“They have so many good players and trick plays, and we have to be on our mettle.
“The form Australia are carrying into this, they have grown as a team again and are playing some unbelievable rugby.
“They have got threats of physicality, speed, aerial threats as well. The form they are bringing in is impressive. We have to go up a gear.
“We know we have to be at our best. The second half (against Georgia on Monday) we were nowhere near where we need to be to beat Australia.”
Wales opened their World Cup campaign with a 43-14 victory over Georgia, when they secured a try-scoring bonus point during a dominant display in the first 40 minutes.
They went off the boil after that, but still showed enough to suggest it could be a tournament when Wales feature as major contenders.
North added: “We expected physicality (against Georgia) and started strongly, but we should have turned up the pace a little more in the first half.
“You always need one bang-out to get your lungs working at this humidity and temperature, and understanding how the ball handles in this temperature, too. It’s quite interesting.
“That first half showed the intensity we wanted to go with. The second half we lost our way a bit and maybe came off the gas a bit. Maybe we should have turned it up a bit more.”
Wales head coach Warren Gatland is due to name his team for the Australia game on Friday.
Changes are likely to be at a minimum – if any – following the Georgia encounter, although prop Nicky Smith and back-row forward Ross Moriarty could come into Gatland’s selection equation.
Both players were on the bench against Georgia in Toyota City.