Scotland will have to compete with the world number one side and the hosts in order to qualify from Rugby World Cup Pool A. Positively, three wins out of four warm-up games is a good sign for Scotland Rugby World Cup progress.
But of concern to their fan base, they have issues with injuries and defence that still require attention.
Here’s your Scotland squad for the Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan! #AsOne
Leave your message of support for the squad below ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/mTU9mVDMXL
— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) September 3, 2019
James Barker takes an in-depth look at Scotland and their chances of knockout qualification in Japan.
Improved results during World Cup warmups
Scotland started their summer warm-up campaign with a damaging and unexpectedly large defeat to France. Conceding five tries without scoring one was not the start to preparation Gregor Townsend was looking for. It highlighted the importance of Finn Russell as the leader of the attack, and Greig Laidlaw as team leader and match controller. When both returned a week later, Scotland were able to beat France.
??????? Chris Harris puts Scotland infront!
? He breaks the France line and goes over to put Scotland in the lead after 60mins! pic.twitter.com/qezaWO0KRq
— Premier Sports ? (@PremierSportsTV) August 24, 2019
Townsend’s men have since played a home and away doubleheader against Georgia. For all Georgia’s supposed credentials and ambitious World Cup expectations, they were comfortably beaten by Scotland on both occasions and only managed to score one try.
World Cup squad hit by injuries
The Scotland team are now on their way to Japan, in full tournament mode. However, they will be taking a huge five players with knocks and injuries. They are already taking a precaution by flying out back-row Magnus Bradbury as a backup to Jamie Ritchie. Ritchie will continue his treatment in Scotland, raising the likelihood he will have to withdraw from the squad.
SQUAD UPDATE | Scotland back-row Magnus Bradbury will travel to Japan tomorrow as precautionary injury cover for teammate Jamie Ritchie.https://t.co/jK5CtXUl3d
— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) September 8, 2019
Three other forwards also have issues, with Lock (in particular) a potential problem area. Jonny Gray and Ben Toolis have hamstring and head injuries respectively and will need replacing if not fit. The third is Blade Thomson, who was already a reserve second-row option [untried, but with plenty to prove].
The final concern is Edinburgh back Blair Kinghorn who will undergo HIA protocols this week. Scotland are more blessed with options in the back three and have Byron McGuigan as a reserve option.
Fast start needed in Pool A
All preparation has been focused on the opening match against Ireland, which is likely to decide who tops the group. Unlike for others such as England, Scotland’s schedule requires a fast start. This is the opposite of the display against Georgia at Murrayfield, where three of their five tries came in the final 15 minutes.
In a reverse of 2015, Scotland will have to face Japan off the back of a short turnaround from the previous match. Fortunately, this is against Russia, who have lost heavily to Connacht and Jersey Reds in their warm-up matches. Even an injury-affected squad will have more than enough to cope with two matches in five days.
Scotland Rugby World Cup progress prospects
It would be easy to panic looking at some statistics from these warm-up games. For example, 11 penalties conceded against Georgia would be a major problem if repeated against the Irish. However, as the Scots have demonstrated they can match anyone on the day. They won’t be scared of Ireland, as they may have been against one of the big three Southern Hemisphere sides.
Four years ago Scotland were a couple of minutes from a semi-final. Given the pool draws and current circumstances, they will do well to match that achievement.
Yet, can they be written off just yet? Not likely, even while the tournament start is close to being within reach.
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