At their best, Scotland are an absolute joy to watch and a horror to play 10 months ago

At their best, Scotland are an absolute joy to watch and a horror to play

Is the devil you know really any better when it comes to the Rugby World Cup?

When Ireland face off against Scotland on 22 September, it'll be the first time since the inaugural 1987 tournament they'll open a World Cup game against a Six Nations side. Whether or not that's a good thing remains to be seen, as Ireland's poor starts in Six Nations over the past few years has often pushed things close to the wire.

Look no further than a 2017 loss to Scotland, a last-minute drop goal against France in 2018 and a poor loss to England in 2019 for examples of this. While you'd like to think that this year's blip has come and gone with a 57-14 loss to England, it's worth noting how Ireland have struggled in the early stages of tournaments in the past.

Especially compared against previous opening ties against Canada, USA, and Namibia in the past three World Cups, this is an incredibly difficult opener for Joe Schmidt's side.

Scotland's strengths

Simply put, Scotland will punish any team that lets play open up into an unstructured game. They have a lethal backline that can create something from nothing, and their overhaul of England's halftime lead of 31-0 in the Six Nations cannot be overstated.

They couldn't be further from Ireland's style of play. Coach Gregor Townsend puts a huge amount of emphasis on an expansive attack, and having such a huge threat out wide will likely be a huge focus for an Irish side that have been caught out in this area plenty of times in recent times.

Scotland have some of the most gifted individual players in the tournament. Guys like Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell can make or break a game, and simply keeping themselves within touching distance is enough for them to sneak in front in a heartbeat.

This Darcy Graham try is a perfect example of how difficult it is to stop them. Throwing five passes and an offload in the space of about 13 seconds, their willingness to keep the ball alive can be a nightmare to defend against.

Clip via Guinness Six Nations

Scotland's weaknesses

Is it cliché yet to say that Scotland lack consistency? They've shown time and time again an ability to take down giants, but struggle to do so regularly.

At their best, they are an absolute joy to watch and a horror to play. At their worst, they allow opposition teams enough space to totally derail them.

Defence is probably their biggest work-on, as there's only so much you can rely on individual brilliance to spark a comeback. Poor outings away from home have been another feature of this Scottish side, so they'll be hoping to rectify that in Japan.

Scotland don't quite have the sheer physicality of the bigger sides, but it is worth noting that that wouldn't be Townsend's style anyway. Qualifying from the pool would likely mean coming up against either the Springboks or All Blacks, so they do run the risk of being out-muscled.

Arguably, their biggest strengths could be considered weaknesses as well (on fire with the clichés today). Unstructured gameplans are fantastic when you're in attack, but one small mistake and everything can come tumbling down.

No more fitting a way to decode the enigma that is Scotland than by using the same match to highlight both their weaknesses and strengths. Sam Johnson shoots up in defence in the opening minute against England, and they end up finding space out wide for an easy Jack Nowell try.

England do tend to start matches strongly, but it's worth noting how poor Scotland were in defence here.

Clip via Guinness Six Nations

Key player – Finn Russell

It's a rare thing to find a player that encapsulates a team quite as well as the Scottish outhalf. At his best, he's nothing short of magic.

With Russell, what looks like a moment of hare-brained madness often ends up being a wonderful moment of brilliance. He can create something from absolutely nothing, and never opts for the easy route.

Keeping Russell contained is likely to be key for Schmidt's Ireland. If he's given a chance to do what he does best (which is just about anything), he will cause no small number of problems for the boys in green.

Scotland will have thought themselves unlucky in their most recent encounter against Ireland, and Russell was at the heart of that. Any moment of weakness or a lapse in concentration is enough for the Racing-bound maestro to pounce, as evidenced by the below.

Clip via Guinness Six Nations