As the Rugby World Cup’s ‘group of death’ reaches its conclusion in Paris on Saturday, Ireland and Scotland face each other with a scenario still possible in which both could advance to the quarter-finals at the expense of defending champions South Africa
Ireland and Scotland play in the final Pool B game at the Rugby World Cup on Saturday, with plenty of talk around the fact that both teams can still progress at the expense of reigning champions South Africa.
What’s the current state of play?
South Africa currently top the ‘group of death’, otherwise known as Pool B, but have played all of their fixtures.
It is unlikely, but not impossible, that Ireland and Scotland can advance with the Springboks missing out altogether.
Scotland would advance if they beat Ireland by at least 21 points while also claiming a bonus point. In this scenario, Ireland could still qualify in second place if they themselves secured a bonus point (by scoring at least four tries).
This would take all three teams to 15 points, with Scotland progressing top on points difference, and then Ireland on their head-to-head record against South Africa having beaten them earlier in the tournament.
Rugby World Cup pool stage tie-breakers
If at the completion of the pool phase two or more teams are level on points, then the following criteria shall be used in the following order until the teams can be determined as the higher ranked:
1. The winner of the match in which the two tied teams have played each other.
2. The team which has the best difference between points scored for and points scored against in all its pool matches.
3. The Team which has the best difference between tries scored for and tries scored against in all its pool Matches shall be the higher ranked.
4. The team which has scored most points in all its pool matches.
5. The team which has scored most tries in all its pool matches.
6. Should the tie be unresolved at the conclusion of steps 1 through 5, the rankings as per the updated world rankings on October 14, 2019 will determine the higher ranked team.
In the case of a tie between three or more teams at the end of the pool stage, once the highest ranked team has been determined following the above criteria, to determine the next higher ranked team the process would repeat, starting at step 1.
What have South Africa said?
South Africa beat Scotland 18-3 in their opening match of the tournament, but their 8-13 loss to Ireland has denied them automatic qualification.
Head coach Jacques Nienaber dismissed the idea of Ireland and Scotland colluding to see the Springboks knocked out of the tournament.
“Could I believe in a scenario that they will decide ‘do we want to get this amount of points and then get South Africa out of the way?’ That would probably be match-fixing, I would say. I hope not,” said Nienaber.
“Rugby is clean. We wear those t-shirts. So hopefully not, because that would be extremely disappointing.”
What have Ireland said?
Ireland assistant coach Mike Catt also responded to the suggestion.
“That stuff is just white noise in the background. No, we are not going to be in cahoots with Scotland,” he said.
“Would we want Scotland to beat us by 21 points? Would you want Scotland to beat you by 21 points?”
Catt, a World Cup winner with England in 2003, also said he’s leaving any permutations of the scoreline to head coach Andy Farrell.
“Andy is fully aware of what needs to happen. Ultimately, both sides need to win the game. If you do that then you put yourself in a good position, that is what we will try to do.”
“We have prepared well for this game. We have had a weekend off on the back of that South Africa game and we need to chase our potential. We need to make sure we go up another level to what we were against South Africa.”
What have Scotland said?
Scotland assistant coach Pete Horne laughed off the idea of collusion between his team and Ireland, calling it a “ridiculous” suggestion.
“We’ve not even thought about it. We were briefed about it before this press conference, but, prior to that, I hadn’t even seen the comments,” said Horne.
“It’s nothing that we’ve spoken about. We’ve just focused on the job we have to do on Saturday night. That’s big enough in itself.”
A conversion or penalty try to knock yourself out?
There does exist a bizarre, albeit million-to-one, scenario where Ireland could knock themselves out of the tournament by kicking a conversion after scoring the bonus-point try
Imagine Ireland score that all-important fourth try which cuts Scotland’s lead to 22 points. Were Ireland to then kick the conversion, that would reduce the deficit to 20 and a full-time result with that margin would send them out and South Africa through.
However, a team does have the option to decline attempting a conversion under rugby union’s laws, which presumably Ireland would do in such a scenario.
Even more gut-wrenching though would be if Ireland were awarded a penalty try – automatically worth seven points – which reduces Scotland’s lead to under 21 points and proves decisive in ending their World Cup campaign.
How likely is it?
None of this is very likely to come to pass. The bookmakers put Scotland to top Pool B and Ireland to come second at 80/1.
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