This was supposed to be a nice and gentle entry into Rugby World Cup 2015 for Scotland. Instead it’s turned into an almost frantic circus around Gloucester.
Japan’s epochal victory over South Africa in Brighton on Saturday has utterly transformed the tournament, and also completely changed the way the rugby world and the wider one, it seems – views this afternoon’s meeting of the tournament’s new darlings and the Scots at Kingsholm.
From being a pool game that sat somewhere on the sidelines of other competing attractions it’s now become the hottest ticket in the country. For the Scots, this has some benefits, but some negatives as well.
As one of the last teams to draw their swords in the tournament, the Scots seem quite happy to have flown in under the radar as attention focuses on the irrepressible Eddie Jones and his Brave Blossoms.
The Scottish camp are confident their extensive homework and analysis on Japan even prior to Saturday is far superior to South Africa’s cursory preparation which clearly cost them so dearly at the weekend.
Yet they’re clearly nervous that Japan are now carrying a huge wad of one of rugby’s premier weapons, momentum.
Also there’s the understanding that Japan’s heroic performance in Brighton has won over every neutral heart in rugby, which will surely be reflected in a hostile atmosphere for the Scots as Kingsholm, despite the fact that skipper Greig Laidlaw plays here and prop Alasdair Dickinson is fondly remembered from his time at the local club.
Jones is doing an exceptional job through the media in trying to undermine Scottish self-confidence, in one breath yesterday saying he had “utmost respect” for the Scots and head coach Vern Cotter before questioning their fitness and saying his side would run them off their feet in the second half.
The Scots won’t get involved adamant that nothing including their team selection today has changed since arriving in England. Head coach Vern Cotter even invokes one of our greatest native coaches whose attitude to rugby is not widely known – in his attitude to the game.
“I think of Alex Ferguson’s great expression about playing the game, not the occasion,” said Cotter.
“We don’t want to play the game too early in our heads. We know this World Cup starts hard and fast with two games in four days.
“The key thing now is staying calm, in control and focused. We’ve had a long week waiting for this game, with the World Cup long started. We need to stick to our process.”
While Jones has spent much of the time in his usual concerted attempt to wind up the opposition and his own team, Cotter has tried to be more aloof.
“I’m not smart enough to get involved in all that,” he said of the media cut and thrust. “We’ve got a job ahead, we’re focused on that and not worrying about anybody else.
“I’ve met Eddie, we know how good he is and he’ll have his team well-prepared. He’s vastly experienced and we all have an enormous amount of respect what he’s achieved.
“The game will be what it is. If you use Eddie’s own phrase, he says you’ve just got to be good on the day and get a little bit of luck.”
Scotland had a reasonably successful warm-up campaign, but their last competitive action was a whitewash in the 6 Nations, and that’s the benchmark that has a lot of people believing they’ll struggle to get out of Pool B.
“The 6 Nations was easy to evaluate,” continued Cotter. “It was only in the final game that we effectively came unstuck. We could have won our first two games and it was fine margins.
“I read articles which claimed the team was broken. The team was never broken.
“You get down in the mouth when you lose and we lost five in a row, when we felt we could have done so much better. But I never thought, ‘what have I done?’”
The good content in the spring “which you all saw” will come to the forefront in this tournament, he believes.
“I’d like to think we’ll start to get the bounce of the ball because we didn’t in the 6 Nations,” he said.
“The Gods of rugby don’t like teams that don’t try so we’re going to get out there and try.
“We’re going to give it our best shot.”