Dubai: Scotland can go into the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan with quiet confidence if they can learn how to stand up to more physical opposition, according to the nation’s one-time most-capped player and two-time British & Irish Lion Scott Hastings.
The 54-year-old has lived through the glory days of Scottish rugby during his playing career at centre for the boys in blue, helping them to the World Cup semi-finals in 1991 and completing the Five Nations Grand Slam in 1990 with a famous victory over England.
Since his retirement in 1987, the side witnessed a slide into also-ran status, having never won the Six Nations since it was expanded in 2000 and suffering the ignominy of picking up the Wooden Spoon four times in the tournament since.
However, there have been some recent signs of rekindling those past glories under the guidance of coach Gregor Townsend, with Scotland demolishing powerhouse Australia 53-24 late last year and humbling England 25-13 in this year’s Six Nations.
This autumn, Scotland put in impressive displays to defeat Argentina and Fiji, but lost out narrowly to Wales and South Africa.
Hastings can see the signs of better things to come, especially at the World Cup next September.
“Scotland have just come out of the autumn series having lost two and won two and I look back and think against South Africa and Wales they were found out a little bit,” said Hastings on the sidelines of a recent presentation for Capgemini, the global innovation partner for the World Rugby Sevens Series, in Dubai. “When you have a team who pose a physical challenge on Scotland they seem to not cope with that challenge at the break down. What that does is stop Scotland playing their fluent, high-tempo style of game the [coach] Gregor Townsend has brought to the team and has brought many admirers to the Scottish game. But that issue needs to be addressed: How do Scotland compete against the heavyweight packs or World Rugby?
“There have been recent advances with England, Wales and Ireland — the Grand Slam champions who have just claimed the scalp of New Zealand and have created a real winning culture. I feel Scotland are just behind that but are not quite there yet. They have some exciting talent coming through such as Sean Maitland on the wing, Huw Jones at centre, Finn Russell, and now in the pack you have Jonny Gray, Stuart McInally, Hamish Watson and Jamie Ritchie,” Hastings, Capgemini Rugby Ambassador and rugby commentator, added.
“The one thing they need to unearth to get to that next level and truly compete is a real ball-carrier in that pack. However, as a unit they compete really well and will be really exciting to watch at the World Cup.
“There is also so much more depth on the bench than there was before. My own nephew Adam [son of Scotland legend Gavin Hastings] has come into the Scotland set up and got his caps and these young guys absolutely thrive on the competition and this will only see them improve. You can see how that hunger and competition for places has really improved the team over the past couple of years.”
Scotland face superpower Ireland and hosts Japan, alongside Russia and Samoa, in Pool A at the World Cup, and Hastings knows a result in their opening game against the Irish could set them up for something special.
“It’s going to be a tough group to get through as not only do we have the Irish but we also have Japan playing at home. That first game is going to be really tough, because if we lose, we might need to win every other game just to get through. But as each time looks to improve over the next nine months, you will also see Scotland improve and they can cause a real shock in Japan.”