Head coach Gregor Townsend claims that Scotland has been drawn for the 2023 World Cup in the hardest pool. South Africa, Ireland, last year’s winners, an Asia/Pacific qualifier (probably Tonga) and another European qualifier stand in the way of his side advancing to the quarter-finals.
He may be right, although he would be pleased that in yesterday’s draw Scotland were drawn second rather than first from the pot of third-placed teams, as that meant they didn’t get into Pool A, which would have meant facing three-time world champions New Zealand (which Scotland never beat) and hosts France (who are in captivating form at the moment, with a young squad that is peaking just in time for the tournament). The team facing this challenging assignment is Italy.
The top two teams from these two pools will clash in the quarterfinals, ensuring that if they want to make the final four for the first time since 1991, Scotland will have to try the hard way.
Wales, Australia and Fiji are in the same pool as last year in the other half of the draw, while England face Argentina and Japan in Pool D.
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Townsend said, “When you see the draw and you look ahead to Paris in three years’ time, which I think will be a wonderful tournament, there’s a lot of excitement, and then there’s the reality of who you’re playing,”
“In the current world rankings, I think it’s the hardest pool. South Africa is ranked first, Ireland is ranked fifth and we are ranked seventh. So all three teams are in the world’s top eight. That means it’s going to be really competitive.
“Whether it’s Tonga or Samoa, the teams that still have to qualify are really strong and could get stronger in the next few years.
“Every four years this tournament gets bigger and bigger. It’s something to look forward to.”
In January, the Scots were ranked third in the world and are still feeling the consequences of an early World Cup exit in Japan at the end of last year, when they fell to ninth in the rankings.
In responding to this setback, the team has shown promise with a strong, if unspectacular, 2020, in which they managed to strengthen their play with strong positional players and a tightened defense.
There have been fears that some of their attacking energy has been lost, but major factors were also weather conditions, the lack of atmosphere in empty stadiums and the new law interpretations they had to deal with during the Test series last autumn.
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Townsend definitely maintained his employer’s trust. The coach agreed last week to an extension of the deal that will tie him to the squad until after the game against France in 2023.
“I’m very honored to get this extension,”I’m very honored to get this extension. I enjoy working with this group of players and the team we have, and you are looking forward to a major Northern Hemisphere tournament coming up.
“We have the Six Nations every year and the short-term focus is there – but we also have the long-term focus of developing a team and a squad that can play their best rugby in 2023.”
The British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa next summer, which Townsend hopes will include some Scottish players and maybe even a few coaches, will be part of the longer-term schedule. It would be a chance to see the Springboks in their own backyard up close.
He explained, “We hope some players will be there and get an insight into how to play against South Africa and what strategies are used during the tour,”
Playing rugby against them in the test match would be a fantastic experience for our team. For so many individuals interested in rugby, the tour would be thrilling. And for the Scottish and Irish teams, it will be very helpful for us as individual nations to play against the Springboks and maybe to defeat them.