Ahead of the Rugby World Cup Yahoo Sport UK is asking some rugby legends to assess the chances of each of the home nations. Here, former Scotland and Lions captain Gavin Hastings casts his eye over Gregor Townsend and his side.
Thoughts on the squad?
I like the balance. There aren’t any big surprises – maybe Huw Jones, but his form hasn’t been what it was 12 months ago. There was a delay announcing it, but that’s Gregor wanting to make sure everything is done correctly. There will have been some difficult conversations had, and it’s probably the hardest part of the job, no matter what you say, but you have to stick with your guns. Squad selection is all about balance and I think Scotland have that.
Most excited about?
What excites me is that I think we have some very talented players – Finn Russell, Stuart Hogg, Darcy Graham, Stuart McInally, Hamish Watson, John Barclay – there’s a lot of talent there. Scotland aren’t going to beat teams by playing conventional rugby, they’ve got to be inventive.
You look at the second half at Twickenham in the Six Nations, and I’m not usually one for looking back, but it was an extraordinary turnaround from a team that was getting hammered in the first half. If they can create that sort of chaos I think teams will find it very difficult to play against them. We won’t win a lot of games playing set-piece, conventional rugby because we’re just not as good as other teams at doing that, but we will win games with our ability to score tries like they did at Twickenham. We have to be a bit different.
Most worried about?
All the other stuff! In all seriousness, our record away from Murrayfield isn’t great, but in most World Cups that Scotland have played, they’ve had really great games against top opposition. Four years ago, no one gave us a prayer against Australia and we came so close – we’re capable of an upset. I do believe there will be one or two at this tournament.
Scotland will have to work incredibly hard to get out of their pool because it’s a tough one that they’re in; Russia is the only easy game. Japan will be desperately keen to get out of the pool, have been in really good form and will have incredible support. Some teams almost get eased into the tournament, but we have to hit the ground running.
Faith in the coach?
Gregor is an intelligent guy. I think he’s trying to be a bit different, which I’m pleased about. It’s good that they’re going into a World Cup with a positive mentality, trying to play the best rugby that they can and that comes from Gregor, ultimately.
What constitutes success?
From the outset the players and coaches will say let’s qualify for the quarter-finals and take it from there. As we speak, I would take that right now because you have nothing to lose beyond that. They’d then be playing South Africa or New Zealand in the knock-out stages. At that point the shackles can come off a bit so you can go out and play your rugby.
How far will they go?
Realistically the quarter-finals, but like I said, you never know. This tournament will have some upsets, so why not there?
Who will contest the final, and who will win?
Probably South Africa and England, but I can’t pick a winner. My hunch is that more England fans will head to Japan in the early stages than other teams’ supporters. I think England are the one team that could create a following quickly in Japan, as opposed to gaining more fans as the tournament progresses. Some fans might expect their teams to coast to the quarters and wait until then to go out there. That could be a huge boost for England.
Gavin was speaking on behalf of Land Rover, Official Worldwide Partner of Rugby World Cup 2019. With over 20 years of heritage supporting rugby at all levels, Land Rover is celebrating what makes rugby, rugby. #LandRoverRugby
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