Simon Zebo: If Ireland nullify Russell and Hogg, they’ll beat Scotland

The Racing 92 winger also has his say on the selection of Andrew Conway and Jordan Larmour in the Ireland backline

Simon Zebo Finn Russell


Andrew Conway starting at 15 and Jordan Larmour starting at 14 is the way I would have gone. Andrew’s a bit more used to fullback – his understanding of the backfield cover and things like that are at a higher level than Jordan’s thanks to his extra experience.

But it’s exciting, especially for Andrew, who’s been raring to get his chance. He wants to be a consistent starter for Ireland and I know how much he wants to feature and prove himself in this World Cup, so fingers crossed for him.

Larmour adds a lot with his footwork and line-breaking. He won’t bring a huge amount more than Keith Earls, who’s also an x-factor player, but Ireland won’t have lost out on anything at all by having Jordan in the lineup. He’s certainly able to create things in attack and use his footwork to cause problems.

Overall, though, Scotland will probably target this back three as a unit. With Rob Kearney and Earlsie having featured so heavily for Ireland in the past, the Scots will aim to test whether two new men at the back will be singing from the same hymnsheet. That’s only natural.

It’ll be interesting to see how both Conway and Larmour go. It’ll be a tough old game with Finn Russell raring to go. I know how excited he is for this match – I’ve been hearing about it every day!

Andrew Conway

Injuries and changes won’t make Joe Schmidt alter his approach

I don’t know whether Ireland had intended to go out and play an expansive game or a kicking game, but having one or two players out in key positions might change Joe Schmidt’s mind on what they’re trying to do.

But, generally speaking, the team has their plays and their calls that they go in with from week to week. I’m sure all the players will know what they have to do and in all likeliness it should be much the same approach – it’ll just be another guy slotting into a vacant spot. That’s what Joe prides himself on: being able to manufacture a game plan and fit people into it seamlessly. That’s very much the Ireland way. If you don’t fit, you’re out!

His views and my views would probably differ a little bit, but he’s the coach and he’s a proven winner. He’s been great for Irish rugby and his way of coaching is his way of coaching – it’s been very successful so far, so hopefully that’ll continue in this tournament.

Wet ball will benefit Ireland, but they’ll need to be very wary of Russell threat

I think the possibility of rain and poor weather will benefit Ireland. With a greasy ball you’re playing a small bit slower and you can’t run onto it as hard as you’d like, because you have to make sure you catch it. The game’s just naturally slower in those conditions and that won’t suit Scotland. Having spoken to Finn and Stuart Hogg, I understand Gregor Townsend’s approach is all about tempo and pushing yourself to the limit, making the game as fast as possible.

On the other hand, they have Finn and Stuart!

On paper, from 1-15 Scotland are not as strong as Ireland but those two in particular can score tries with very few touches of the ball. Ireland will have to be wary, and I’m sure Finn will have been the focal point of Andy Farrell’s defensive briefings all week. They’ll need to be prepared for the x-factor.

Finn’s a mercurial talent. He’s incredible. On his day there are few better attacking 10s in world rugby. His passing game’s unbelievably strong, as is his short kicking game and long kicking game. There’s also his offloading ability and the threat he poses with his speed. He has so many tricks and facets to his game that when he’s on form, he’s undefendable. If you shut him down three ways, he’ll put a fourth out of the bag.

All that said, Ireland should definitely win. I don’t think there should be any fear of Scotland as a team outside Finn and Stuart. If Ireland can nullify those two then they’ll win the game.

Ireland 1/3, Draw 25/1, Scotland 5/2

What do you think?