SCOTT Johnson believes Scotland are capable of topping their group at the 2015 World Cup despite being drawn alongside South Africa and Samoa.
The Scots, who are seeking a new coach after Andy Robinson stepped down in the wake of last month’s defeat by Tonga, are the lowest ranked team of the named trio, with Japan and Canada likely to complete a tricky Pool B.
South Africa are second favourites to win the tournament while 2015 could be the year ever-improving Samoa make their mark on world rugby.
Johnson, Scotland’s attack coach and a contender to succeed Robinson, insists his side can humble the Springboks if they play to their potential.
“We’ve shown form in the last few years that proves we can take the scalps of the big teams,” he said. “Trying to determine what theirs or our side will look like in three years’ time is like determining how big, fat and ugly I’ll be in three years’ time, which isn’t easy.
“The fact is if we get our parts completely right, we’ll take on anyone on any given day. That’s what we’re aiming to do.”
With South Africa expected to top Pool B, Scotland and Samoa will battle it out for the runners-up spot with Australia, England or Wales likely waiting in the quarter-finals.
But Johnson refused to identify the South Sea Islanders as the pivotal match and believes it will be the most competitive tournament yet.
“I remember going for the draw for the 2003 World Cup and it was obvious the pools were very weak below the first and second teams,” he said.
“But looking at the pools for 2015, the third, fourth and fifth teams won’t be easy. Japan will be in our pool and in three years’ time they will be very good.
“If you take your eye off the ball and look at just one fixture it’s not fair on the tournament nor the game. We’ve got to do our part and do it well. If we do that we’ll pull through.”
Johnson’s sentiments were echoed by South Africa captain Jean de Villiers, who believes Scotland will benefit from the World Cup being hosted by England. “Being used to the conditions definitely gives Scotland an advantage,” he explained.
“It’s not too far from home for them so they’ll have a lot of support. We’ve had Samoa in every World Cup we’ve played. That will be another tough one.
“World rugby is getting closer and closer together and the guys are getting more competitive so by the time we hit 2015 it will be a great show for world rugby.”
Scotland have faced Samoa eight times before, including two previous clashes in the World Cup at Murrayfield, in 1991 and 1999. The Scots have won seven of the matches, with the other a draw in Edinburgh in 1995.
The first time Scotland played the Springboks was in 1906 and they have since met a further 21 times, with Scotland winning five and losing 16 of those encounters, most recently a 21-10 defeat at Murrayfield last month.
SRU chief executive Mark Dodson was also at the draw at London’s Tate Modern Art Gallery.
“It’s an exciting draw for us and we know the impact big tournaments can have on invigorating sport throughout the UK,” he said. “This is the fourth largest sporting event in the world and we should be excited about the possibilities arising from it.”
Scotland team manager Gavin Scott accompanied Johnson and Dodson, and added: “We haven’t made things easy for ourselves in terms of our world rankings but I don’t think the teams we’ve been drawn against will like having us in their group either.
“The Scotland side they’ll face in two years time could be a very different animal to the one we’ve seen recently.”
There were four pools drawn yesterday, each comprising five teams, with the top two from each pool qualifying for the knock-out phase.
It didn’t take long before organisers and coaches dubbed Pool A the ‘Group of Death’ – and with some justification, given that it includes Australia, England and Wales. Pool C contains reigning champions New Zealand, Argentina and Tonga, while France, Ireland and Italy are in Pool D. There are two qualifiers from the regions to be placed in each pool, and those will be decided at a later date.
World Cup 2015 officials also announced that the runner-up in Scotland’s Pool B would face the winner of Pool A and that the winner of Pool B will play the runner-up of Pool A.
The list of venues for the tournament will be finalised sometime around March, with some voicing suggestions that Scotland could be permitted to play some of their pool matches in the north east of England in order to increase the likeliness of demand for tickets.
The Welsh Rugby Union have launched an audacious bid to stage their pool matches against host nation England and Australia at the Millennium Stadium, which was included in England’s original bid document and debate has raged as to whether Wales should be afforded home advantage for any of their major pool matches.
While England may not play all their pool matches at Twickenham, it seems inconceivable that Stuart Lancaster’s men would be ordered to play against Wales in Cardiff. But organisers England Rugby 2015 last night refused to rule out the possibility that the host nation may have to go to Cardiff for a crunch pool fixture.
WRU chief executive Roger Lewis said: “It is very important to remember that Wales was included in England’s bid for matches in the Millennium Stadium. What was pencilled in [for the Millennium Stadium] was eight games and the Welsh government and Cardiff City Council would provide financial support to the tune of £1.4million.
“We would be very welcoming hosts. The discussions will now begin. I think they [England] would embrace the opportunity to play in the finest rugby stadium in the world.”