Scotland’s 2023 Rugby World Cup squad their best ever, reckons Borders sporting legend John Jeffrey
Addressing a welcome ceremony for the 33-man squad, including fellow Borderers Darcy Graham and Rory Sutherland, in Nice on Monday, Jeffrey, a world cup semi-finalist himself in 1991, told them: “You are ambassadors for our game and you are ambassadors for our country.
“What you’ve done over the last two years has been fantastic. You’ve embraced everything that is great about our heritage, about Scotland.
“The way you play your game is exciting, it’s attractive and it’s also successful.
“Over the last two years, you’ve taken the support to a different level. The country is behind you, former players are behind you, the likes of which I’ve never ever seen before.
“Not only do players and fans in Scotland support you but fans round the world do.
“When you go to sevens tournaments, Fiji are always everybody’s second favourite team. At XVs, Scotland are now that, purely and simply because of the brand of rugby they play, so congratulations for what you’ve done on the pitch and off the pitch. You’ve set the benchmark.”
The 64-year-old, currently vice-chairman of World Rugby, was capped 40 times by Scotland between 1984 and 1991, helping secure a grand slam in 1990 and a last-four place at the year after’s world cup, jointly hosted by England, Wales, Ireland, France and his homeland, their best performance to date in the competition, but he says he rates the current team more highly than that of 32 years ago.
“I know because I’ve been there myself and failed, and I’ve spoken to former players, and this is without doubt the best-ever Scotland team to take the field,” he told them.
“All I would say to you is – you are always remembered in history by your records. Make sure, as the best-ever rugby team to represent Scotland, you set the record books right over the next four weeks.”
Scotland, ranked fifth in the world, kick off their cup campaign on Sunday against South Africa in Marseille, and they then play Tonga in Nice on Sunday, September 24; Romania in Lille on Saturday, September 30; and Ireland, the world’s top-ranked team, in Paris on Saturday, October 7, with the top two in the pool qualifying for the last eight.
Scotland haven’t beaten South Africa since 2010, losing their last seven matches against the defending champions, currently ranked second in the world, but Jeffrey believes ex-Gala star Townsend’s side can pull off an upset against them.
“Can Scotland qualify? Of course they can qualify, absolutely,” he said afterwards.
“If you want to ask me when do you want to play South Africa, I would say first up. Okay, you are not going to catch them cold after what they did to the All Blacks, but the jeopardy of playing them last is one of us is in, one of us is out. Playing them first up, we do get a second chance.
“South Africa lost their first game in Tokyo in 2019 and went on and won it, so we can beat them. It is a big ask but we have beaten them before.
“The question then is can we beat Ireland? Gregor always tells me he has this game-plan to beat them and I believe him, then who knows?
“There's no reason why, despite being in the supposed group of death, we can’t qualify from the group."
“It's a great challenge but historically Scotland play better when they’re underdogs.
“On our day, every one of the top teams in the world will be scared of us.
“Speaking to people 12 months ago, everyone would say Ireland and South Africa are going to qualify. Speak to people now and they’ll say it’s between three teams. The chance is there – let’s take it.”