2023 World Cup draw gives Scotland a difficult test

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Hannan Martin

There are occasions when fans of Scottish rugby would prefer to crawl under a comforter and wait for the sun to rise again, which is typically only for a brief period in June or July and then.

Continue to take vitamin D, boys and girls, because last week there wasn’t even a glimmer of sunshine in Scotland, and I’m not talking about the weather here. The defeats were bad enough for Edinburgh Rugby and Glasgow Warriors – the latter game was particularly gruesome to watch – but then came the news that next season Duhan van der Merwe and Adam Hastings would be playing in England.

I don’t blame any player for optimizing their profits in a career that can be finished in a moment, but it demonstrates the parlous state of the finances of Scottish rugby when the SRU can clearly not compete in terms of salary with clubs down south. After the 2023 World Cup draw, this news emerged. It didn’t take a genius to find out that at the 2023 World Cup, Scotland would be competing in a group where it would be difficult to get through the group stage.

Even before the World Cup last year, I cautioned that failure to make the quarterfinals would put Scotland in big trouble at the 2023 World Cup in France, simply because I knew one fact – that as of January 1, 2020, the seedings for 2023 would be based on the world rankings.

We finished 9th in the world rankings in 2019 with Scotland failing to beat Ireland and Japan, and that decided that we would be seeded in Group 3 in the draw that took place earlier this week, which placed us in a real death group with Ireland and world champions South Africa, who would be joined by two other qualifiers. Provided that Samoa or Tonga and Romania or Georgia were to be those qualifiers, I’m able to say now what the goal of Scotland should be – at least beat the little guys and qualify as one of the top three in Pool B for the 2027 edition. Forget about beating Ireland and South Africa, that’s just not going to happen.

And yet, and yet… How many people would have expected last year that many countries wouldn’t even play this year if they read this? How many of you would have guessed Wales was going to go backwards? Who would have really expected that New Zealand would be beaten by Argentina? And most importantly, who would have dreamed of the coronavirus pandemic, or rather “dreamt”?

The unfairness of the draw for the World Cup is clear. The draw is set almost three years before the tournament, based on standings that have long been obsolete.

For instance, take Wales. They were still fourth in the rankings on January 1, but their devastating curve of form pushed them to ninth. In the rankings, Scotland has risen to seventh, overtaking Japan, who were already in Band 2.

Argentina is just one spot behind us in eighth and have overtaken Wales, due largely to their historic victory over the All Blacks. England may have defeated France to win the Cup of the Autumn Nations, but that was basically the 2nd XV of France, and does anyone suspect that Les Bleus is the world’s current form team? They’re fourth now, but in January they were seventh, so we’re faced with the All Blacks’ prospect of meeting France in Pool A, with France showing that, in my opinion, they merit Band 1 status instead of Wales long before the tournament begins.

All of this is so unjust and dreadfully premature, and I am grateful that World Rugby has decided to rethink the scheduling of the draw for future World Cups. Might I recommend that the “notice period” be shortened to one year, if we return to some kind of normality, of course.

So, in France, will Scotland make it to the 2023 quarterfinals? My initial response is “no chance,” but look at how much has changed since the World Cup last year. Yes, Ireland and South Africa are clear favorites to beat Scotland in the current form, and unless they have a Trumpian approach to fact, no one will argue with that.

At least until the end of the World Cup, Gregor Townsend is in charge, and that’s a smart step by the SRU as it at least assures us of a clear approach to team growth. South Africa and Ireland can be beaten if both teams have a poor day, but Scotland will have to play far above what they did with the mom.

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