Pool B will be settled on Saturday night when the Scots and Irish meet at the Stade de France. South Africa have already played all their games and top the group on 15 points but must wait for the outcome of the match in Paris before discovering their fate. Only the top two in the group will qualify for the quarter-finals and it would take an extraordinary result to push South Africa into third place.
Scotland, currently third on 10 points, would need to beat Ireland, second on 14 points, by a margin of 21 points or more, and both teams would need to pick up a bonus point. Such a scenario would see all three finish on 15 points. Scotland would win the group because they would have the best points difference of the three. Ireland would finish above South Africa because second and third would be decided on the head to head result and Ireland beat the Boks last month.
"I think between ourselves, Ireland and Scotland, everybody can still miss out on the quarter-finals, every single team, all three of those teams, but all three can also still make it so the pool will only be decided on Saturday,” said Jacques Nienaber, the South Africa head coach. “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. Rugby is clean. We wear those t-shirts so hopefully not because that would be extremely disappointing.”
Pete Horne, the Scotland assistant coach, laughed off such a scenario when he spoke with journalists at the squad’s training base in Nice. Asked if the South African comments were ridiculous, Horne said: "Yeah. 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. 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."
Ireland were similarly dismissive. Mike Catt, one of their assistant coaches, said head coach Andy Farrell was fully aware of the permutations but gave short shrift to the notion his side are in “cahoots” with the Scots. “I don’t know what to say about that,” he replied, when asked about Nienaber’s match-fixing comment. I think he was asked the question, wasn’t he? He didn’t actually say it was match-fixing, did he? That stuff is just white noise in the background. No, we’re not going to go in cahoots with Scotland.
“Firstly I’d ask you, would we want Scotland to beat us by 21 points? If you asked any player in this room, any of us, would they want Scotland to beat you by 21 points? No, sorry. Andy is fully aware of what’s going and what needs to happen. Ultimately, both teams need to win the game. If you do that then you put yourself in a good position. That’s what we will try and achieve.”
Ireland have won a national-record 16 matches in a row following their 13-8 success over the Springboks on September 23, in addition to 12 of the last 13 meetings with Scotland. Extending those impressive streaks by once again defeating their Six Nations rivals would comfortably secure progression from the so-called ‘Pool of Death’ as group winners.
Scotland can eliminate Ireland if they beat them and deny them a bonus point in the process. To do that, Gregor Townsend’s team would need to win by a margin of at least eight points. Scotland would also go through with a bonus point win and could afford to let Ireland have one bonus point providing the margin of victory was five points or more.