You thought that the debacle of Scotland’s World Cup in Japan had been forgiven and forgotten? The interminable draw for the 2023 tournament in France is where they paid in full.
Not because of any ludicrous conspiracy theory about the fallout from Typhoon Hagibis and Scotland’s unseemly scrap with World Rugby for insisting that the final match against Japan be played.
Reigning world champions South Africa – not likely to get much worse in the next three years – and our habitual nemesis Ireland are the formidable obstacles to be negotiated to get to the last eight.
No matter how many South Africans switch through residency to become Scottish, one assumes they’ll keep some decent performers back to make a spirited defence of the title won in Japan.
Even Ireland’s four-year malaise at successive RWCs (what’s the opposite of peaking for the big tournaments?) which means they’ve never progressed beyond a quarter-final didn’t manifest itself in Yokohama last year, when they coasted to a 27-3 win over a passive Scotland – arguably the only decent Irish performance in Japan.
The pool will be filled out with the lead Oceania/Pacific qualifier, most likely to be Samoa (who Scotland beat in Japan) or possibly Tonga, and the second European qualifier, which is probably going to be Romania.
The draw seems ludicrously early three years in advance, and the set rankings which put Scotland in the third tier of teams arbitrary, but you have to make the draw and set the rankings sometime.
Is it reasonable to go with the rankings determined at the end of the last tournament? At least there is some meritocratic value in that, rather than picking some point in time at random.
Scotland may be higher than Wales in the world rankings right now, but the Welsh got to the semi-finals in Japan, in England in 2015 and New Zealand in 2011. You can expect the rankings to shuffle further by the time 2023 comes around, anyway.
Even if Scotland do squeeze into the last eight, they’ll likely be required to play New Zealand or hosts France. Good luck with that.
Bright side? It’s three years away, and much can change in that time. Gregor Townsend, barring a calamitous collapse in form, will still be Scotland’s head coach and the continuity he aspires to will be entrenched.
Several key players of the current team will either be in their prime or at the veteran status around 30 years old where the tournament will represent their last chance at a proper legacy.