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Rugby World Cup

Scotland Bring Back Stars for Japan Showdown

Scotland have brought back in a number of key players ahead of their final Pool A clash with Japan but one man has been named among the replacements in a big surprise

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(Photo by ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP/Getty Images)

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend has made a number of changes to his side for their Pool A showdown at the Rugby World Cup against hosts Japan on Sunday.

Having watched a side consisting of many of his reserve players hammer Russia 61-0 during the week Townsend has decided to bring back in big names such as Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell. 

However, despite a number of changes Townsend has left captain Stuart McInally on the bench in what is a surprise call by the Scots, with Fraser Brown, who started as a flanker against Russia, comes in to take McInally’s position at hooker. While Greig Laidlaw takes on the role of captain in his absence. 

Joining Fraser in the front-row are Allan Dell and WP Nel, with Grant Gilchrist and the always impressive Jonny Gray behind that trio in the second-row. 

Magnus Bradbury starts as the blindside-flanker, with Jamie Richie on the openside and Blade Thomson makes only his fifth cap from No 8. 

There is a hugely talented and exciting back-line with Laidlaw and Russell linking up as the half-backs, with Sam Johnson and Chris Harris just outside the duo in the centre positions. 

Darcy Graham opens up on the left-wing after an electric performance last time out, with Tommy Seymour on the right as Hogg completes the line-up from full-back. 

Joining McInally on the bench are the likes of Ryan Wilson, George Horne and Blair Kinghorn as Townsend has plenty to call upon among the replacements if needed. 

Speaking ahead of the game Townsend has praised his 31-man squad as he believes they have worked really well as a unit to get this far. 

“It’s taken a real squad effort from our players here in Japan to put us in a position to play for a place in the quarter-finals, having risen to the challenge of what’s effectively been knockout rugby since the second round of our Pool. The entire group has featured in our past two Tests, both of which have been clinical and professional performances. It was great to see players get the opportunity to play in this World Cup on Wednesday and it looked like they enjoyed the experience,” he said. 

He continued on to encourage his team to go out and earn a quarter-final spot with a win against Japan. 

“It’s now down to this group of 23 men to build on this momentum and squad togetherness to deliver a winning performance against Japan in Yokohama in two days’ time,” he added. 

Scotland know that a win could be enough for scrap through to the last eight of the tournament however, not only do they face a tough task against the Japanse they also have to hope that Typhoon Hagibis will pass before Sunday or else there is a possibility of having their game cancelled leaving the Scots heading home without any say. 

Check Out the Full 23-Man Squad Below.

Starting XV:

15. Stuart Hogg – 71 caps

14. Tommy Seymour – 54 caps

13. Chris Harris – 13 caps

12. Sam Johnson – 8 caps

11. Darcy Graham – 10 caps

10. Finn Russell – 48 caps

9. Greig Laidlaw (capt) – 75 caps

1. Allan Dell – 27 caps

2. Fraser Brown – 45 caps

3. Willem Nel – 34 caps

4. Grant Gilchrist – 39 caps

5. Jonny Gray – 54 caps

6. Magnus Bradbury – 10 caps

7. Jamie Ritchie – 13 caps

8. Blade Thomson – 4 caps

Replacements:

16. Stuart McInally – 32 caps

17. Gordon Reid – 40 caps

18. Zander Fagerson  – 24 caps

19. Scott Cummings – 7 caps

20. Ryan Wilson – 48 caps

21. George Horne – 9 caps

22. Pete Horne – 44 caps

23. Blair Kinghorn – 16 caps

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Fans Player of the Decade Confirmed

World Rugby have announced the winner of their Fans Player of the Decade vote and there’s no surprise who’s won

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Former All Blacks fly-half Dan Carter has been named World Rugby’s Fans Player of the Decade following their polls over the past couple of weeks.

The organisation narrowed the competition down to 16 players, as they split them into a last-16 style format, with backs on one side and forwards on the other. With two players going head-to-head in the polls to make it through to each respective round. 

Last week it was brought down to the final four, with all of them being New Zealand internationals as Carter was pitted up against Beauden Barrett, with Richie McCaw facing Kieran Read. 

McCaw and Carter were victorious and now Carter has come out as the overall winner as the best player over the past 10-years. 

It is not hard to see why fans have gone for the 112-cap All Black, who finished up his international career in 2015, having guided his country to historic back-to-back Rugby World Cup crowns. 

As well as that he holds the title for the most points scored at test-level rugby with an incredible 1598 to his name. 

On the international stage he was impressive, but he has been equally so at club-level, winning domestic crowns in both France with Racing 92 and in Japan with the Kobelco Steelers. 

The 37-year-old is still under contract with the Japanese outfit, but has been unable to play for them for the majority of the year, having suffered a major injury, which also prevented him from a brief return to Racing 92 for the latter-half of last season. 

However, he is poised to return to the playing field shortly and will be hoping to guide his team to further success and will have the aid of another All Black great joining him in the form of Brodie Retallick, who is linking up with the side for the season during his year sabbatical.  

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Read Admits to Injury in RWC Semi-Final

Former All Blacks captain Kieran Read has opened up about an injury he picked up before the Rugby World Cup semi-final against England earlier this year

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(Photo by Silvia Lore/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Former All Blacks captain Kieran Read has admitted he was injured leading up to his side’s Rugby World Cup semi-final against England, but played anyway.

The 128-cap international retired from test-level rugby following the tournament in Japan and has confirmed he was injured for the semi-final defeat to England in his new autobiography “Straight Eight”.

He claims that he suffered a calf injury during New Zealand’s incredible quarter-final win over Ireland and that it prevented him from preparing properly for the last-four clash.

“What if I had been able to train with the team that week instead of watching from the sideline? What if I had been out there to offer a little more direction, or reassurance, or assistance?” he wrote in his book.

However, despite losing the game 19-7 while injured, Read also admitted that England were the deservide winners on the day as they overpowered the All Blacks.

Many will now question the coach’s decision to allow Read to play while injured and hamper the team’s chances as they bid to win a third Rugby Cup on the trot, with Read part of a back-row that was up against the likes of Billy Vunipola.

At 34, Read has now chosen to move abroad and taken up a role with the Toyota Verblitz in Japan, where he will once again work with former All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen.

It is doubtful that even if he was at full tilt for the game that there would have been a different outcome due to England’s sheer dominance on the day, but it does show that the All Blacks went in with a chink in their armour before the match had even kicked-off.

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Is Schmidt to Blame for Ireland’s RWC Failings?

The IRFU have placed the blame of Ireland’s dismal World Cup campaign on Joe Schmidt, but is it really that easy?

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Yesterday, the IRFU held a meeting with a group of handpicked journalists to deliver their verdict on Ireland’s Rugby World Cup campaign.

The result according to the IRFU was that Ireland failed to evolve a game plan, failed in performance due to anxiety, had poor preparation ahead of the tournament and had a skills deficit compared to the world’s best teams. 

All of which appears to have been placed on head coach Joe Schmidt, who stepped aside following the conclusion of the tournament. 

The conclusion of where the team failed was reached by IRFU high performance director David Nucifora, who interviewed coaches and staff, while an independent body held discussions with the players, with all roads leading to the four failings mentioned above. 

Schmidt, who took over as head coach in 2013, a year before Nucifora took his role with the IRFU, is becoming the sole person responsible for the team’s failure, but is that fair?

Yes, Ireland appeared to be stuck playing the same game-plan as their impressive 2018 campaign, which saw them defeat all before them, which is a failure to evolve, but Schmidt had a full team of back-room staff, were they not capable of coming up with a different plan? Or were the players themselves unable to use their own initiative to bring forward a case of how they should play to Schmidt?

In terms of performance anxiety, these are international stars, playing on the biggest stage in European rugby for their provinces on a regular basis. Some criticized Schmidt for not rotating the team enough, but that meant that the same players where playing on the international stage for Ireland on a regular basis too, why are they anxious? 

These are the cream of the crop in Ireland, players that have won Champions Cups and PRO14 titles with their clubs, Six Nations titles and Grand Slams with Ireland, winning series tours with their country and some have even represented the British and Irish Lions on the grand stage. Why are they anxious and what does it have to do with Schmidt? 

Schmidt is a man renowned for his tactical and thorough preparation, looking at teams inside out to find their weaknesses and looking at his own team to find their strengths so what changed this year from a man that admitted his only regret when leaving the job was the fact that he only took one day off in six years. 

The team had played together many times before, went on training camps weeks before the tournament in Japan, including hot-weather camps to prepare for the soaring temperatures and humidity, and played pre-World Cup warm-up games. So why weren’t they prepared and once more how is Schmidt to blame?

Lastly, a lack in skills, an area were former players have noted Ireland failed to capitalise on during the past year. Some pointing towards Leinster’s style of play and asking why players weren’t following that example. 

It is true that Schmidt prefers a risk-free game, but surely once on the pitch, the players must use their initiative when opportunities arise, and play expansive rugby when the chances come if that’s how to win a game of rugby. 

Schmidt may have asked them to be more careful, but it is up to the players on the pitch to seize a game by the scruff of the neck and create openings. It seems unlikely that Schmidt would have argued with his players if they made it further in the World Cup by taking more of a risk. 

The four areas where Ireland failed to seem to be somewhat of the overall problem, and it would be foolish not to place some of the blame on the head coach, but it seems strange and even more foolish to pile the sole blame on him. 

There was a group of staff and players that prepared and went to Japan, a group of talented individuals, if Schmidt was falling short they should have been able to point it out and take it upon themselves to help solve the issues at hand. 

May the environment had gone stale after six years of the same routine, may the players needed more of a challenge, but what appeared to happen this year more than before was the players looked to lack motivation and desire in the green jersey, and that is on them no matter who tries to cover it up. 

While others find it easy to point the finger of blame to a man no longer associated with the IRFU, a look in the mirror may be a good idea. Afterall, if Schmidt was the problem then questions may be raised as to why it is his former right-hand man becoming Ireland’s head coach. Hopefully exciting times lie ahead under Andy Farrell, but don’t be surprised if more of the same is to follow.  

Four years ago Ireland were trounced in the quarter-finals of the World Cup by Argentina, in between then they arguably became the best team in the world under Schmidt, before being trounced again by the All Blacks at the same stage of the competition. The hope will be that Farrell can produce something others have failed to in the Irish hot-seat, but a review of a tournament isn’t what will help, a review of the system is needed and each member involved with Ireland’s failings should hold their hand up for the failure, because one man isn’t the only person at fault.

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