YOKOHAMA: Ireland may go into the Rugby World Cup ranked number one in the world, but Scotland are not short of confidence and scent a possible upset in their opening Pool A match on Sunday.
Hooker Stuart McInally will captain the most experienced Test team in Scotland rugby history with 630 caps, considerably more than the previous record of 581 against England in 2011 and France in 2003.
“To get a squad that has this experience for such a big game is a real bonus,” coach Gregor Townsend said of his side ranked seventh in the world.
“Experience is important. Experience with form, recent form, and really good physical shape makes it even more valuable and that is what we have with this group this weekend.”
Townsend has close to his top match-day 23 available, including a backline stacked with British and Irish Lions, while Ireland are beset by injury with Rob Kearney, Robbie Henshaw and Keith Earls all missing.
The loss of their combined experience could be a telling factor when Scots fly-half Finn Russell starts directing play at the International Stadium Yokohama.
Although Scotland have lost six of their past seven games against Ireland, Townsend said they are coming into form at the right time.
“We have had two of our best ever training sessions, so as a coach, you get excited about things like that,” he said.
“I also see the experience we have in our squad this weekend and that counts for a lot in big games.
“I believe in this team as individuals and we believe we will create opportunities. On Sunday it is about taking them.
“We have to win all the big moments. We have to win every moment in the game, whether it is a ruck clearance, a tackle, an execution of a pass.”
With a hastily rearranged backline to contend with, Ireland coach Joe Schmidt will be looking for a dominant performance from his forwards to starve Scotland of possession.
In a Pool A that also includes Japan, who scored four tries in Friday’s 30-10, bonus-point win over Russia, the passage to the quarter-finals is far from guaranteed for the losing side.
Scotland go into the World Cup on a three-match winning streak with victories over France and twice against Georgia.
Ireland, however, lost heavily to England before completing their warm-up campaign with back-to-back wins against Wales.
“One thing I will be really confident of is that we will be tough to beat,” Schmidt said.