It’s been an interesting fortnight in Gloucester and Leeds watching the Scotland squad partake in their opening two games of the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
And sitting at the top of Pool B with maximum points is great.
However, before a match was played we were all expecting 10 points from bonus wins against the two “minnows” of the pool.
What we didn’t expect was Japan’s win over the Springboks and that has changed the complexion of the group, putting Scotland in the driving seat to qualify for the quarter-finals. Having seen Samoa’s two matches so far, I cannot see us losing to them, but bonus points could well come into play yet, so no-one is taking things for granted.
South Africa stepped up a gear to slaughter Samoa, but the Pacific Islanders also have a chance to qualify, along with Japan. Our second-half performances against Japan and USA were brilliant – 33 points and five tries in each – but if we play against South Africa the way we played in the first half against America we could be many points down by the break and the ‘Boks are not going to concede 33 points to Scotland in the final 40.
Our own Stuart Hogg, Ross Ford and captain Greig Laidlaw are expected to start in Newcastle on Saturday – the team is announced this morning. Laidlaw has been immense. He’s kicking well and when he came on against the USA with half an hour to go he stamped his authority on the match.
Hogg has fortunately recovered from his foot injury and is playing well, and the more we get into this World Cup the more I expect we will see of him. He is a player who loves to shine and when things are going right, the confidence just oozes out of him. He will relish testing himself against the world’s best.
Ford has played more than 90 times for Scotland now and the way he is playing at the moment there is no reason why he shouldn’t get to the 100 mark, as well as surpass Chris Paterson’s Scottish record of 109. He’s a player who’s come under the radar over the past few years to become the third most-capped Scotland player and he’s playing some of the best rugby of his career right now.
I will be disappointed if we don’t do ourselves justice against South Africa, whose breakdown coach is of course another well-known Borderer, Richie Gray (the Gala one!).
I predict a Scotland win, but we can’t afford to play catch-up rugby and a good first half is vital.