Thursday 27 July 2017

Scotland coach Gregor Townsend puts Ireland's success down to the influence of Joe Schmidt

Coach Gregor Townsend of Glasgow Warriors speaks ahead of the Pro12 Semi Final between Glasgow and Ulster at Scotstoun Stadium on May 22, 2015 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Jeff Holmes/Getty Images)
Coach Gregor Townsend of Glasgow Warriors speaks ahead of the Pro12 Semi Final between Glasgow and Ulster at Scotstoun Stadium on May 22, 2015 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Jeff Holmes/Getty Images)

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend admits playing hosts Japan will make the World Cup campaign more challenging than it might have been - but also more mouth-watering.

Scotland were grouped with Ireland and Japan in Pool A for the 2019 tournament along with a European qualifier - Romania currently top the rankings - and a cross-continental play-off winner.

The Scots avoided England, Australia and New Zealand among the top seeds while drawing Japan ahead of Italy, Argentina and Georgia.

Scotland have never lost to Japan and beat them in the 2015 tournament after Eddie Jones' side had shocked South Africa, but Townsend knows the host nation, now led by New Zealander Jamie Joseph, will be formidable opponents at home.

Townsend said: "Japan obviously made a memorable impact at the World Cup two years ago, beating South Africa, and will have tremendous support going into the tournament.

"They'll be targeting getting out of the pool and I'm sure that we'll see them play close to their best in every game.

"We know how dangerous they can be, having played them in the World Cup and on tour last year. The majority of our players who will feature in the next World Cup have already had that first contact with them and the style of rugby they aspire to play. It's likely they're going to continue to improve over the next few years.

"Playing the hosts makes it a bigger challenge but one we will relish. It's pretty much guaranteed that we'll play them in front of a sell-out crowd. That will be great motivation for our players."

Ireland have never been beyond the quarter-finals and lost at BT Murrayfield in this year's RBS 6 Nations.

But Townsend said: "Ireland have been one of the most competitive and most-improved sides over the past few years and a lot of that is to do with their quality of players and the influence of head coach Joe Schmidt.

"They have shown real consistency over the past two or three years. They are one of the best teams in the world. Whichever side we drew from the top band was always going to be very tough.

"On the other hand, we know Ireland pretty well and have a couple more opportunities to play them before the World Cup, while we also know a lot about their players through the Guinness PRO12."

The draw, in Kyoto, came less than 24 hours after Townsend announced his first squad for Scotland's summer tour on his first day in charge, and further whetted the former Glasgow head coach's appetite for his new role.

"The first reaction is one of excitement that we know which pool we'll be in," the 44-year-old said. "The Rugby World Cup now comes in to sharper focus for everyone and it looks, from the draw today, like it's going to be another great tournament.

"It's a new venue for the World Cup and I'm sure there'll be a lot of interest in our pool draw, especially when we get there, because we're taking on the host country.

"The 2015 World Cup was a great tournament with some brilliant rugby played and I'm sure the next one in Japan will be even better."

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