RWC 2015 preview: The lowdown on Scotland

All four countries have had their dramas in the build-up. Chris Hewett assesses who will best shrug off  the woe

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The Independent Online

It is easy to laugh at Scotland’s continuing enthusiasm for the increasingly common rugby species known as the "Kilted Kiwi" – not that the likes of John Barclay find the subject particularly amusing. But this much is undeniable: a willingness to recruit from the other side of the world and upset the locals in the process reveals a degree of ruthlessness.

Now that Scotland have what might be called a “Sporran’d Springbok” into the bargain, it will be fascinating to see how the policy plays out. John Hardie, a New Zealander from the deep south of the South Island, headed for these shores in July, played 50-odd minutes of a warm-up game against Italy in Turin – his first appearance for a Scottish team of any description – and beat the long-serving Barclay to a place in the World Cup squad on the strength of it, thereby joining the No 8 Josh Strauss (born in Cape Town) among the back-row contingent. Genuine blue-shirted warriors, or soldiers of fortune? We will know soon enough.

The man who made these decisions also happens to be a southern hemisphere type: Vern Cotter, a New Zealander who cut his coaching teeth in the Bay of Plenty. As he does not say anything much to anyone if he can conceivably help it – as an opposite to his immediate predecessor, Scott Johnson, he could not be more polar – he is presumably content to let performances do the talking for him. Those performances will have to be good, because if the Australia-England-Wales-Fiji group is the “pool of death”, Scotland find themselves in the “pool of not feeling terribly well”.

While there are two games in the “obviously winnable” category, neither looks wholly straightforward: Japan, cleverly coached by Eddie Jones, will generate a high tempo and should draw inspiration from the clamour and claustrophobia of Kingsholm in Gloucester; the United States will be as athletically accomplished as virtually any side in the competition and know every bit as much about the venue, Elland Road in Leeds, as their alleged superiors. Then, things get really serious. South Africa and Samoa, a week apart? Thanks for nothing.

Yet for all that, the Scots are showing signs of rapid development. Strong at scrum-half, where the gifted Greig Laidlaw will have to be at his best to hold off Sam Hidalgo-Clyne and Henry Pyrgos, and in the back three, where Sean Lamont and Tim Visser bring firepower to the wings, they have also unearthed a gem of a playmaking outside-half in Finn Russell, who will surely turn out to be the country’s best No 10 since Gregor Townsend (who happens to coach the youngster at Glasgow).

The lowdown on:
England
Ireland
Wales

Four years ago under Andy Robinson, the Scots missed out on a World Cup knockout stage for the first time. They were a little unfortunate to do so, but only long-term losers bemoan their luck. This time, playing their two hardest games close to the border in Newcastle, they have something more than a puncher’s chance. Just so long as the imports land some blows.

SQUAD

Forwards F Brown, R Ford, S McInally, A Dickinson, R Grant, G Reid, W Nel, J Welsh, G Gilchrist, J Gray, R Gray, T Swinson, D Denton, J Hardie, J Strauss, A Strokosch, R Wilson.

Backs S Hogg, S Lamont, S Maitland, T Seymour, T Visser, M Bennett, P Horne, M Scott,  R Vernon, F Russell, D Weir, S Hidalgo-Clyne, G Laidlaw,  H Pyrgos.

Strengths

New-found energy and ambition

Weakness

Inability to win the tight ones

Main man

Jonny Gray

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