Scotland flanker Rory Darge says he has no doubt that Scotland can thrive under the pressure of having to win all three of their remaining pool matches – almost certainly with a bonus point – in order to qualify for the quarter-finals of this World Cup.

The Scots battled hard in their tournament opener against South Africa and prevented the world champions from securing a four-try bonus-point – but they lost 18-3, meaning they did not even manage a losing bonus-point, which could be crucial in the final shakedown.
Now there is no room left for any slip-ups, which means the team must produce a ruthless performance against a dangerous Tonga outfit in Nice tonight, then back that up against Romania in Lille next Saturday, and then produce what would almost certainly be the greatest display of the Gregor Townsend era against Ireland – the number one ranked team in the world – in Paris seven days after that.
“I’d call it motivation,” said Darge, when asked how he and his team are coping with the win-or-bust minefield they must negotiate their way through. “The thing that works for me is just focusing on the game, and there’s a lot to focus on, looking at Tonga, looking at our set-play, and what we have to do right.

“There’s enough to occupy the mind. If you do that, there’s not much room to think about all the added pressure.”

One area where Scotland must make big improvements from their South Africa performance is at the breakdown, where they were bullied out of being able to deliver the sort of fast ball they need for their vaunted backline to excel.

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Scotland’s average ruck time during that match was 4.6 seconds, more than a second longer than South Africa (3.37 seconds), which is a pretty poor statistic for a side who believe they have produced the quickest ball in Test rugby over the last year or so.

Meanwhile, Tonga really attacked Ireland at the breakdown, winning six jackal turnovers, and Darge knows that the Pacific Islanders will go hard there again tonight.

“Yeah, definitely,” he concurred. “We’ve looked back at that Ireland game and they got a lot of turnovers against a side who really pride themselves on the breakdown work and are arguably one of the best in the world.

“That’s been a massive focus point for us, making sure we get the breakdown side of things right. That’ll allow our attack to do what we know it can do, if we stack those multiple rucks.

“Everyone says physicality is always a key word against Tonga. That’ll be big for us. 

“‘I think a lot of it starts in the carry. If the first carry is good, it allows everyone else to run on to it,” Darge replied, when asked for specifics on what Scotland need to do better to ensure more of the quick ball they need to play the multi-phase rugby which will engineer try-scoring opportunities.

“It’s been a massive focus point for us. Hopefully we can deliver, but we know Tonga are good at competing there. We have to be on it.”

It is a year ago to the day that Darge suffered a serious knee injury playing for Glasgow Warriors versus Cardiff, which ruled him out of both the 2022 November Test Series and the 2023 Six Nations, but he’s not the type of character to spend much time looking backwards.  

“I didn’t know it was exactly a year ago,” he said. “It was obviously tough at the time. Even the following months after it happened, I didn’t think I would be here – so I’m really glad to have come back from it.”

Darge added that he is looking forward to locking horns with his Glasgow Warriors team-mate Sione Vailanu, who is covering back-row from the bench for Tonga.

“It’ll be a weird one playing against him,” he said. “I’ve played a lot with him at Glasgow. It’s class seeing him taking us forward with his ball carries and putting us on the front foot. 

“His defensive work is also outstanding. If he comes on towards the end of the game, everyone’s focus will probably pick up around the breakdown knowing what he can do. It’ll be cool to play against him.”