Rugby World Cup chance for “strongest ever” Scotland says former captain – book your experience to France now

Andy Nicol has played with some legends of Scottish rugby but says the national squad at this year’s World Cup is the strongest it has ever been. Submitted pictureAndy Nicol has played with some legends of Scottish rugby but says the national squad at this year’s World Cup is the strongest it has ever been. Submitted picture
Andy Nicol has played with some legends of Scottish rugby but says the national squad at this year’s World Cup is the strongest it has ever been. Submitted picture
Andy Nicol has played with some legends of Scottish rugby but says the national squad at this year’s World Cup is the strongest it has ever been, even without one of their biggest stars.

Despite being on the biggest of stages, the rugby legend believes the pressure is off the players and they have the freedom to succeed at the tournament in France.

The former Scotland captain, who is an ambassador for Infinity Sports Travel which is offering unique cruise packages to the World Cup, says that even though Scotland must face reigning champions South Africa and Six Nations winners Ireland in the group stages, they still have a real chance to proceed.

“The aim is to go into every game and try to win. We have a hell of a draw but Scotland will be a real threat. It is not a great draw for South Africa and Ireland either because they will look at Scotland and think that on their day Scotland can compete with anyone.”

“Strongest ever” Scotland

“There was an expectation four years ago that Scotland would qualify out of their group with Ireland and Japan (they didn’t),” says Nicol. “I don’t think there is that expectation this year because South Africa and Ireland are so good. That means Scotland can go in with less pressure and more freedom. You get that balance right, with the quality, players and coaches they have, and I think Scotland can have an impactful World Cup.”

Nicol believes all the teams at the showpiece tournament in France are at a higher level than has been seen in previous years but Scotland’s squad exceeds everything that has gone before.

“It is the strongest Scotland have ever been. Strength in depth means you can change your team to a change in strategy of tactics.”

French jeopardy

The home side are the team to watch, according to Nicol, who also warns of the possibility of some upsets. “France are the favourites for me … they are a brilliant side to watch and in Antoine Dupont they have the best player in the world.

“But you have to watch the Southern Hemisphere – South Africa with the strength they have got are a hell of challenge, New Zealand have hit the ground running. And Ireland are there as well.

“It is a fantastic tournament because there is genuine jeopardy.”

Winning with rugby greats

Nicol turns to France when he looks at the “biggest achievement” of his career and says Gallic fans can be a real asset to their team. He was in the Bath team who beat defending European champions Brive in Bordeaux in 1998 with the French fans far outnumbering the English. “It is a different atmosphere to anything outwith France, a great place to play.

“When the crowd get behind the French team, they really get behind it. But when the French team are not performing they can get on their backs almost quicker than other countries. It is a unique fan experience and I think we will have that experience this year (at the World Cup).”

His teammates on that day 25 years ago included Welsh wing Ieuan Evans and English centre Jeremy Guscott but Nicol also played with some Scottish greats including the Hastings brothers, David Sole and Doddie Weir. And his greatest triumph for the national team was captaining a certain Gregor Townsend in 2000.

At a rain-lashed Murrayfield they beat Clive Woodward's England 19-13 in the Six Nations, the first time they had prevailed against the “Auld Enemy” and lifted the Calcutta Cup in a decade.

“It was certainly the highlight of my career,” he says but points to one fact from the game many not realise. “I was the first Scotsman to lift the Calcutta Cup at Murrayfield because previously it was given at the players’ dinner in the evening.”

He adds: “I am fortunate to have two great games to look back on.”

World Cup without “absolute legend” Hogg

One player Scotland will miss at the World Cup is full back Stuart Hogg who announced his retirement this summer after reaching a century of caps for his country. But Nicol says the strength of the squad means all is by no means lost.

“Losing Stuart Hogg is a blow but it is less of blow as it might have been through his career because for many years Stuart Hogg was really Scotland’s only attacking player in the back line.

“The pressure and responsibility was firmly on his shoulders to be creative and score tries in the backs but that is very, very different now. You look across the board and we have really creative players in the backs and you have Blair Kinghorn and Ollie Smith who are the two players next in line for that full back berth. In years gone by Stuart Hogg out of the Scotland team would be a massive blow, but not now.”

Hogg will always be a legend for Scotland, says Nicol. He adds that aside from his 100 caps, being top try scorer and a Heineken cup winner with Exeter, it was the way he played which puts him up there with the greats.

“For me what brings his name right into the discussion on the greatest Scotland players is that he is one of the few players for who, when he touched the ball, there was a genuine sense of excitement in the stadium and when you were watching on TV. He is an absolute Scottish rugby legend.”

Enjoy the World Cup with Andy Nicol

Infinity Sports Travel is a provider of unique sports travel experiences and are official agents for Rugby World Cup France 2023. They have partnered with Norwegian Cruise Lines to offer rugby fans all-inclusive cruise packages with luxury on-board accommodation and official match tickets.

There are various packages available both with tickets and without tickets for those who are seeking accommodation only but this is very much the ultimate cruise experience for rugby fans.

Onboard there will be the likes of The Good, The Bad and The Rugby podcast teams (GB and AUS), The Rugby Pod, as well as Andy Nicol hosting a number of events including the opening night blockbuster of France V New Zealand and the Quarter Finals. Throughout the course of the cruise which is travelling to the likes of Ibiza, Corsica, Tuscany (and more), all matches are being live-streamed at the onboard rugby village on a 60-foot screen with room for 3,000 fans.

Hurry now to book on the remaining cruise package with Scotland tickets – the crucial second group match against Tonga in Nice.

Prices start from £299 per person and include match tickets, transfers from Marseille to the Allianz Riviera stadium and two nights all-inclusive accommodation on board the Norweigan EPIC cruise ship.

Nicol says: “Having the cruise ship in Marseille harbour will be fantastic; it is a very exciting way to experience the World Cup with like-minded Rugby fans from across the globe.

“And Tonga is a great example of how high the quality of the World Cup now is. I think there will be shocks and Scotland Tonga could easily be that.”

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