Scotland must respond after Ireland debacle, four years of preparation all comes down to today
Playing in any World Cup is special. I was lucky enough to play in three tournaments, but this one somehow seems extra special. Japan just looks the most amazing country and then you have had all these fantastic stories. Uruguay beating Fiji in Kamaishi: Wow. Japan beating Ireland in Shizuoka: Double wow. Obviously Scotland has been less a case of “Wow” than “Ow”, but I just hope all the players understand what a privilege it is to play in a World Cup. You will make memories that last a lifetime.
Some of my best memories are of playing at World Cups, from getting to the semifinals in 1991 and then scoring two tries against New Zealand in 1995. Great, great times. It does feel strange to think I was involved in three World Cups when so much of my strength has disappeared. I think, “How can that happen when I am struggling to lift a cup of coffee with two hands?”
For Scotland, it is win or bust against Samoa today. The way the World Cup is organised with the pool stages, you can afford one slip up, but you cannot afford two. Teams have recovered before from losing a game to do well in the tournament. You look at South Africa losing to Japan and then pushing New Zealand all the way in the semi-final in 2015. England got pumped 36-0 against South Africa in 2007 and then reached the final. There is hope.
I will make no bones about it: Scotland were very poor against Ireland. There was no spark. It was flat, lacklustre. When you go into the World Cup, you want to make a big statement first up.
Possibly the Scots took their eye off the ball because their build-up had gone quite well.
The most disappointing thing is that Scotland gave Ireland too much respect, too much time, which you cannot afford to.
Ireland’s playmakers always seemed to have three or four seconds on the ball. There was no getting into their faces, no hustling, no counter-rucking, which allowed Ireland to play on the front foot. Go back to the Uruguayans, they played a game where they gave Fiji no time. They hustled, they bustled. For all of Ireland’s power up front, Japan showed that you can knock them off their game if you do not play the match on their terms.
It is one thing to be beaten by a better team, but it is another to be outworked by anyone else. Hard work underpins everything in rugby. Talent is probably worth about five per cent.
Vital task: Gregor Townsend must lift his Scotland players