Scotland play their third match of the World Cup against Pool B minnows Romania in Lille on Saturday night.
Here, we assess some of the key talking points ahead of a must-win fixture for Gregor Townsend’s side.
Scots need big win ahead of Ireland
Nothing less than a comprehensive victory will do for Scotland as they bid to stay on course for qualification for the quarter-finals ahead of what is shaping up to be a critical showdown with Ireland in Paris next Saturday. The Scots need to win with four tries this weekend to get the bonus point they require, which is something they should do with little trouble given that they touched down seven times against Tonga last weekend, while Ireland and South Africa put 82 and 76 points respectively on the Romanians. In addition to getting the bonus point, a swashbuckling attacking performance and a heavy scoreline would be desirable to ensure a degree of buoyancy is maintained ahead of the Ireland match.
Big guns preserved
Head coach Gregor Townsend clearly has a big eye on next weekend given his team selection, with 13 changes to the XV that started last Sunday’s win over Tonga. Darcy Graham and Grant Gilchrist – who captains the side in the absence of the injured Jamie Ritchie – are the only two players in the line-up who started the opening game against South Africa, when arguably the first-choice XV was sent out. Big-hitters like Finn Russell, Duhan van der Merwe, Sione Tuipulotu, Zander Fagerson and Jack Dempsey have been left out of the 23, while regular starters Blair Kinghorn, Huw Jones and Rory Darge will provide a reassuring presence on the bench.
Opportunities for fringe men
The starting quartet of Hamish Watson, Luke Crosbie, Javan Sebastian and Ben Healy are getting their first action of this World Cup after being idle for the first two games, while six others – Ali Price, Cam Redpath, Ollie Smith, Jamie Bhatti, Ewan Ashman and Sam Skinner – have been handed their first start of the tournament. With Scotland boasting a relatively established starting XV these days, this is an opportunity for several players on the periphery of the squad to showcase their abilities and try to push themselves further up the pecking order, possibly even playing their way into contention for the Ireland game.
The Vern Cotter factor
A familiar face will be attempting to put a spanner in the works for Scotland this weekend. Vern Cotter, the head coach who led the Scots to within a whisker of the World Cup semi-finals in 2015, is working as a consultant for the Romanian team at the current tournament. The 61-year-old New Zealander is sure to have plenty of insight on the Scots, having had three years in charge before being succeeded by Townsend in 2017. “I have been overseeing their preparation since this year’s Rugby Europe Championship and I will be involved as an advisor for the RWC, hoping the Oaks will evolve, play some good games and exceed everyone’s expectations,” said Cotter last month.
Scotland get first taste of northern France
After spending the past month sizzling in the heat of the south of France at their base in Nice and in Marseille – where they played their opener against South Africa – the Scots have encountered grey skies and a much cooler temperature since flying to the other end of France for this weekend’s match in Lille. The players have relished the change of scenery and a reprieve from the heat that ensures they will kick off on Saturday night in conditions far more like what they are accustomed to at home in Scotland.