TOKYO (Reuters) - If there is such a thing as a good time to face the top-ranked team at the World Cup then it must surely be before they hit full stride, so it is no surprise fullback Stuart Hogg hopes Scotland can catch Ireland cold on Sunday.
Ireland became the world’s No. 1 team with their win over Wales this month, though few expect them to go all the way in Japan after a poor Six Nations title defence, a drop-off in the form of several key players and a recent record defeat to England.
Injuries have also taken their toll, with fullback Rob Kearney a doubt for Sunday, and Hogg said Scotland must seize their opportunity at Yokohama Stadium in their Pool A opener.
“In international rugby, there is no such thing as an easy game, but if there is a time to take on Ireland, I believe it is now, before they get up a head of steam,” he told reporters on Thursday.
“Whatever team Ireland put out, we are going to have to match it and beat it. If they play their best team, or some boys who haven’t got as much experience, it is still an incredibly huge challenge for us.”
Denied a place in the semi-finals of the 2015 World Cup due to a controversial last-gasp penalty that saw Australia advance instead, Scotland are arguably better equipped for the tournament this time around.
“Flair” is not traditionally a word associated with Scottish rugby, but this side have it in spades and are capable of running in tries from anywhere against anyone.
Hogg, though, said it would be their work without the ball that would prove crucial to their chances in Japan.
“We believe defence will win World Cups, and that is something we have been working incredibly hard on since we came together in June,” he said.
“We are just concentrating on ourselves and making sure we don’t beat ourselves and make too many silly errors.
“We might get five or six opportunities in the game to get some points on the board and we have to make the most of every single opportunity we are given.”
Team mate Sam Johnson expected a huge physical test from the Irish but added that Scotland were not overawed by the challenge.
“They are No.1 in the world, but we are confident,” he said.
“We are in a different country, so that levels out the playing field. We will see what the conditions are like.
“Their kicking game is going to be a huge strength for them, especially with the weather, if it is going to be wet.”
Reporting by Peter Rutherford in Sapporo, Japan; Editing by Clarence Fernandez