Rugby World Cup 2019 Profile: Scotland - Gregor Townsend's side have potential to fly despite poor Six Nations

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With the Rugby World Cup just nine weeks away, we take a closer look at each of the competing nations. After profiling 11 teams, we continue our series with Scotland.

One large leap forward and two steps back.

This isn’t referring to Tom Jones sparkling footwork during his famous track, but describing the Scottish rugby team in recent years.

Every time it looks like they are catching up with Northern Hemisphere powerhouses England, Wales and Ireland, they suffer defeats to the likes of France and Fiji.

And while confidence appeared to be rising in the Scotland camp after last year’s third-place finish in the Six Nations, they ended up finishing fifth this season.

But for all the disappointment, two things will instil more belief and motivation ahead of the Rugby World Cup.

Firstly, the Scots gathered momentum from their storming second-half display against England at Twickenham back in March.

Down 31-7 at half-time, Gregor Townsend’s side roared back to lead 38-37, only to concede a late try and England to force a draw.

Still, a commendable finish to the campaign nevertheless.

Secondly, they proved that they can be competitive on the World Cup stage, reaching the quarter-finals of the 2015 edition, only to be robbed of a late victory against the Wallabies.

Imagine referee Craig Joubert didn’t award that late kick and the Scots reached a first semi-final since 1991?

A lot can happen in four years though and with the same players still lighting up the grand stage, a place in the knock-outs is something the Scots will be hoping to emulate this autumn.

An all-important clash with Ireland is likely to decide whether they qualify first or second from Pool A.

In February, they dominated possession and territory against Ireland at Murrayfield. But a litany of errors in the second-half saw them crash to a 22-13 defeat.

Scotland have beaten Japan in all five of their previous meetings. Townsend’s troops, however, should be wary of the home side’s threat, backed by a strong home crowd.

Samoa and Russia make up the rest of the pool, with Scotland having only lost once in 10 matches against Samoa. The match with Russia will be the first-ever meeting of the two sides.

Should Scotland finish second in the pool, they are likely to face holders New Zealand for a spot in the semis.

The Scots pride themselves on being a very fit team and should put it up to most sides.

Townsend has put significant emphasis on speeding up the play and increasing ball-in-time play where possible. That was evident in the Six Nations win over Italy and in the second period against England.

Progress is being made and if Scotland can reach the last eight, it would confirm their place among the elite sides in the world after a difficult year.

As expected, there is a raft of marquee names selected in Townsend’s squad, such as Stuart Hogg, Finn Russell and Jonny Gray, with 14 other players boasting previous World Cup experience.

Rory Hutchinson, Grant Stewart and Blade Thomson all made the 42-man training squad, while veteran flanker John Barclay is fit following a year out with an Achilles tendon injury.

Scotland play four warm-up matches, home and away against both France and Georgia in August, before flying to Japan.

After a disappointing Six Nations campaign, belief should still be high for Scotland fans given their favourable pool and chance of reaching another quarter-final.

A solid game plan, tactical consistency, discipline in defence and advancing to the knock-out stages should make for a positive World Cup.

And if Hogg can show some of Jones’ sparkling footwork in Japan, then we are in for a treat.

Nicknames: The Scots

Union: Scottish Rugby Union

Head coach: Gregor Townsend

Captain: Greig Laidlaw

Most caps: Ross Ford (110)

Top scorer: Chris Paterson (809)

Top try scorer: Ian Smith & Tony Stanger (24)

Home stadium: Murrayfield

Key player: Stuart Hogg. The 27-year-old is a lethal runner and his vast talents make him one of the stand-out players to watch in the World Cup. Often acting as a second playmaker, the Exeter man draws defenders to release his teammates and has pace to burn when in possession.

Best finish: Semi-final (1991)

Fixtures: Ireland (September 22), Samoa (September 30), Russia (October 9), Japan (October 13)

DID YOU KNOW?

Scotland lost 9-6 to England in the 1991 Rugby World Cup semi-finals after Gavin Hastings missed a penalty in front of and a short distance from the posts.

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