Scotland have Ireland on high alert as the kick-off in Japan approaches. They may be infuriatingly inconsistent but when their game clicks, as it did when coming from 31 points down to draw with England in their last outing, they are a joy to watch.
What has Ireland on edge is their fixture against the Scots is first up in the September finals. Last time this scheduling happened in a tournament, Scotland needed only around 30 minutes to rip the Irish defence apart at the start of the 2017 Six Nations and they are well capable of doing so again, especially given the long lead-in to that match.
The joy of a World Cup pre-seasons is players are in national camp for an extended period. Look at how it resulted in the class of 2015 going from Six Nations wooden spoonists to being robbed of a World Cup semi-final place due to a refereeing decision six months later.
Gregor Townsend knows the transformation that can occur and he sounds delighted at being able to enjoy the rarity of a club-length preparation with his Test squad. It’s important after their recent injury-hit Six Nations.
“It’s a big positive that we have more players available to us than we’ve had during the season,” he said at the start of a pre-season where Scotland haven’t hung about in keeping its squad on its toes.
Their activity has already including a week in the Inverness highlands that was then contrasted by their follow-up warm-weather camp in Portugal. It’s been all go for Townsend and his large squad of 44.
Two years into his reign, you’d like to think he is sure of his best options at this stage. But in choosing a squad containing five uncapped players and acknowledging how Scotland have had five captains in the last 18 months and he will wait before appointing one for RWC, he has signalled he is prepared to still to great lengths to ensure his best 31 eventually make it on the plane to Japan.
WATCH | Scotland are warming up for #RWC2019!
Take a look behind the scenes as Scotland's training squad completed the first block of pre-season preparations ?https://t.co/zel0ouaDyT
— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) July 9, 2019
Blade Thomson’s arrival should immensely add to the back row puzzle. Concussion denied him a November debut but he is now back in a mix that contains nine players across the three positions.
Given the ability of so many of these players to play in the different roles, this will be one of the hardest fought selections, particularly as a second row such as Sam Skinner can also pack down on the blindside if required.
Switching to the backs, Townsend, whose record in charge reads 12 wins, 10 losses, and one draw, has given himself the luxury of having four scrum-halves prepare.
Beyond there, the coach is managing a hand full of riches as he has 14 options between wing, centre and full-back – including forgotten man Duncan Taylor – and only nine are likely to travel.
The game is expected to sell-out well in advance so don’t leave it too late ?
— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) July 12, 2019
These are the sort of games that can ensure the Scots forwards are battle-hardened and ready to fight Ireland to the finish in that all-important World Cup pool opener in Yokohama.
WATCH: Part one of the two-part RugbyPass documentary on the many adventures that fans experience in Japan at this year’s World Cup
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