Rugby World Cup Profile: Scotland

Date published: September 1 2015

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With the 2015 Rugby World Cup now just days away, we take a closer look at each of the competing nations. Next up…

SCOTLAND

World Cup track record: One of the most consistent teams in World Cup history, Scotland had reached the knockout stages of every World Cup until 2011 when they went out in the pool stages. Their best result was fourth place in 1991 but that will remain a bittersweet memory, with Gavin Hastings missing a simple penalty against England in the semi-final with his side losing 9-6. Other than that it's been quarter-finals throughout with a close loss to Argentina in 2007, the nearest they've come to getting back to the last four.

1987: Quarter-finals
1991: Fourth place
1995: Quarter-finals
1999: Quarter-finals
2003: Quarter-finals
2007: Quarter-finals
2011: Pool Phase

2011 World Cup: Scotland failed to make the knockout stages of the tournament for the first time in 2011, after being drawn in a tricky pool with England and Argentina. After struggling past Romania and Georgia in their first two pool games, they lost by a single point to Argentina before losing a must-win game against England 16-12.

World Cup Stats: P33, W19, D1, L13

– Most RWC appearances: Chris Paterson (15)
– Most appearances: Chris Paterson (109)
– Top RWC points scorer: Gavin Hastings (227)
– Top points scorer: Chris Paterson (809)
– Top RWC try scorers: Gavin Hastings (9)
– Top try scorer: Ian Smith and Tony Stanger (24)

Form: Scotland endured a disastrous Six Nations, losing all five games to finish bottom of the pile, a first whitewash since 2012. After close losses to France and Wales, they were stunned at home by Italy, before going down away to England and getting thumped by Ireland at home on the final day. It was a disappointing result after a promising November when they had comfortably beaten Argentina and Tonga and pushed the All Blacks very close. The World Cup warm-up games showed progress as they were edged by Ireland in Dublin before ending their losing streak against Italy in Turin. The return fixture however saw the Socts romp to a morale-boosting 48-7 win at Murrayfield. 

Coach: Vern Cotter took over as Scotland coach in 2014, after a hugely successful eight-year spell in France with Clermont Auvergne. Replacing Scott Johnson, the Kiwi hasn't been afraid to mix things up, with a couple of his countrymen with Scottish relations called into the squad. A renowned disciplinarian, Cotter is very demanding of his players, and was one of the first coaches to really focus on nutrition in France. During his time with Clermont the team won their first Top 14 title, at the 11th time of asking, and were among the most dominant teams in Europe for several years. They should have won more silverware, but lost three Top 14 finals and a European final. He also saw an incredible home record, with Clermont going 77 games without defeat at the Stade Marcel Michelin. Cotter's sides were generally free-scoring, at times overly adventurous to their cost, but were generally great to watch.

Captain: Greig Laidlaw will lead the team having established himself at scrum-half. Also capable of playing at ten, Laidlaw is the latest in a long line quality Scottish scrum-halves, and offers a very good kicking game for the Scots. Now 29 years old, Laidlaw had to bide his time to get a chance with Scotland, but has been an ever-present almost ever since. Having come through the ranks at Edinburgh, he moved to Gloucester in 2014, winning the Challenge Cup in his first season. At Test level he is under some pressure from Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, his young replacement at Edinburgh who offers more of a running threat than Laidlaw, who is more of a game manager.

Key players: Scotland have struggled to produce a top quality fly-half in a long time, but Finn Russell looks like he could take possession of the shirt long-term after some impressive displays. While he remains a little raw, his performances for Glasgow and Scotland have shown his potential, and his partnership with Laidlaw will be key at the World Cup. Elsewhere in the backline, Stuart Hogg remains Scotland's most dangerous player, and he will take any opportunities to counter-attack if ball is kicked to him in space.

Up front, Jonny Gray is beginning to fulfil the potential that saw him talked up as better than his older brother. Still only 21, he looks to be a Lion in the making, combining athleticism with incredible work rate, and is already the most important player in the Scottish pack.  Meanwhile in the back row, newly-eligible number eight Josh Strauss will be relied on to provide the same leadership that he has at Glasgow since arriving from South Africa.

Profile: One of the traditional powers of the European game, Scottish rugby has seemingly been on the decline over the last decade and a half, with their victory in the final Five Nations, their last major success. With their club sides struggling and the national team no longer a threat in the Six Nations, there were concerns that it might be a terminal decline, but the performances of Pro12 champions Glasgow, combined with a promising young generation coming through, gives some reason for optimism, especially under Cotter, who could potentially be their best coach since Ian McGeechan at the start of the new millennium.

In terms of playing style, Scotland have often been known for playing a dynamic style, focusing more on speed than bulk, and that has continued with the current side. While their scrum can often be targeted, particularly after the retirement of tighthead Euan Murray, they have countless options in the lineout, and a pacy back row.

Scotland is also notable for having hosted the very first international rugby game, beating England at Raeburn Place in Edinburgh in 1871. The two sides play for the Calcutta Cup, which is currently in England's possession. In recent seasons the Scots have struggled for major results, although they have regularly beaten Argentina, including a big win in November and a series victory away in 2013. They have also beaten South Africa and Australia in the last five years, but they have still never beaten New Zealand.
 
Prospects in 2015: Scotland face a tricky group, with South Africa the stand-out side, while Namibia shouldn't win a game. The Scots will be optimistic of making the last eight, but will probably be underdogs against Samoa, while an improved Japan side could also surprise them.

Fixtures:

23 Sep – 14:30 v Japan, Gloucester
27 Sep – 14:30 v Namibia, Milton Keynes
3 Oct – 16:45 v South Africa, Newcastle
10 Oct – 14:30 v Samoa, Newcastle

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