RWC 2015: Hope in the air as Scotland are given boost by Glasgow's glory

Despite early struggles adapting to professional rugby and a dreadful last Six Nations, the Dark Blues are gaining confidence from success at club level

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The Independent Online

To point out that Glasgow is a football city is akin to suggesting rain is the fall-back forecast for any meteorologist in the west of Scotland; statements of the bleeding obvious. Yet this football city has packed off seven times as many players to the Rugby World Cup as it did to Brazil last summer. Nobody is better represented in England than Glasgow Warriors, for so long an uncared for, often ignored, presence in the city. There are 21 Warriors at the tournament.

Vern Cotter, Scotland’s coach, has 17 with him, while others wear the jerseys of Fiji, Italy, Tonga and the US. It is all more than enough to leave Gregor Townsend, Glasgow’s coach, banging his head against his desk at Scotstoun, the refashioned athletics stadium in the west of the city.

That Scotland only has two professional sides, run under the umbrella of the Scottish Rugby Union, means there will always be numbers from Glasgow and Edinburgh filling the international ranks, but Edinburgh have only seven and for Glasgow to send an entire XV, and then some, is due testament to their steady rise from the shambles of the SRU’s early attempts at professionalism.

Townsend, also without his defence coach Matt Taylor, who takes the same role for Scotland, was left to field an 18-year-old in the second row as an unrecognisable Glasgow side began the defence of their Pro12 crown by losing at home to Scarlets, but short-term setbacks are part of the Glasgow story. Their rise has been a gradual, but a thoroughly effective, one and is now starting to restore credibility to the national side they were set up to feed.

 

Scotland will face Japan at Kingsholm tomorrow buoyed by the confidence of the Glasgow players filling their ranks. The horror of the Six Nations has been replaced by hope and, although we have been here plenty of times before with Scottish rugby, Glasgow’s success offers substance to the optimism.

“I’m a big believer that if Scotland are to improve and play well then the Pro teams have to play well,” says Alastair Kellock, the 6ft 8in lock who lifted the first trophy won by a Scottish professional side. Having reached the semi-finals of the Pro12 in 2012 and 2013 and the final in 2014, Kellock led Glasgow past Munster in June’s final. “It’s massively important. It’s a psychological element – knowing what you do is good enough to compete with, and beat, the best teams and that is the exactly the same attitude you need to take into an international dressing room.

“Think about the young guys and all they have really known over the last four years is semi-finals and finals. It gives them confidence in their own ability, if they play well they can win things. We had a tough time in the Six Nations but we have seen massive improvements over the last four warm-up games.

“I don’t think anybody is getting carried away. It’s got to be a steady build and that’s what’s happened at Glasgow over the years. It’s not been a flash in the pan, it’s been about edging up every year and that’s got to happen internationally as well. You don’t just fix things between one game and another.”

Scotland have a long way to travel from the depths of a Six Nations whitewash. But the verve with which the likes of Finn Russell, Mark Bennett, Peter Horne and Stuart Hogg have become accustomed to playing makes it a journey worth watching. In the short term, there will still be times when the wheels come off; yet there is reason to look forward to the long term. There is the prospect of a parallel to be drawn here between the accomplishments of the Irish provinces, against whom Glasgow now compete as equals, and the success of Ireland.

“Definitely,” says Kellock, who captained Scotland at the last World Cup. “For me it is key. If those guys, the core of your squad, are confident and taking that into internationals then that can make a big difference.”

Kellock and his team-mates paraded the Pro12 trophy in George Square in the heart of Glasgow in June. They are beginning to win over their city. Two of that side, Sean Maitland and the mischievous Fijian scrum-half Niko Matawalu, have been poached by English clubs – Glasgow, with an average gate of around 6,000 and reliant on SRU funding, will never be able to match the financial incentives of the English or Irish, let alone the French. But under Townsend, who must surely one day take the Scotland job, they have become capable of beating the English, Irish and French on the field.

“At Glasgow we play a quick-tempo game and we are doing the same thing with Scotland,” says Horne. “It’s brilliant, everyone is buying into it. It’s not just the Glasgow players, the Edinburgh lads and the exiles, everyone is on the same wavelength and it’s given us all a lift.”

Clubs with most players at the World Cup

21 Glasgow, Argentinian Rugby Union*

17 Leinster

15 Saracens

13 Waratahs

12 Toulon, Bath

11 Ospreys, Racing, Clermont

10 Crusaders, Hurricanes

9 Newcastle, Sharks, Timișoara Saracens, Zebre

*players contracted to ARU, who will form new Argentinian side in Super Rugby next season

No risks from Cotter ahead of Japan opener

The Scotland head coach, Vern Cotter, will put out a near first-choice line-up against World Cup shock troops Japan.

Scrum-half Greig Laidlaw will captain the Dark Blues at Gloucester’s Kingsholm Stadium tomorrow in the Scots’ Pool B opener. And Cotter has taken few risks ahead of facing a side still buzzing from their stunning 34-32 win over South Africa on Saturday.

Mark Bennett and Matt Scott will form the Scots’ midfield partnership, while Stuart Hogg has shaken off an ankle knock to get the nod at full-back.

The wing Sean Lamont, partnered by Tommy Seymour, is set to make his 98th Scotland appearance, while Finn Russell will be expected to set a rapid tempo against the physical Japanese outfit from stand-off.

The all Edinburgh front row of props Alasdair Dickinson, W P Nel and hooker Ross Ford lead a pack that also features locks Grant Gilchrist and Jonny Gray in the second-row, with Ryan Wilson, John Hardie and No 8 David Denton named as the starting loose forwards.

South African-born Josh Strauss could make his Test debut off the bench.

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