Rugby World Cup: Temperatures rise as stylish Scotland sweat it out at Côte d'Azur ceremony

Nice rolled out the blue carpet for Scotland on Monday as Gregor Townsend’s side were officially welcomed to the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

In an hour-long ceremony in the gardens of the city’s impressive Musée Masséna the squad arrived to the sound of Highland Cathedral played by a local brass band. After being cheered along an azure runway, they took their seats in the full glare of the midday sun. And it was hot - 32 degrees on the front lawn of one of Nice's finest Belle Epoque villas. Kitted out in linen suits, open-necked shirts and obligatory chunky white trainers, the players sweated it out as various dignitaries said their bit.

We heard from the mayor of Nice, Rugby World Cup high heid yins and our very own man at the top, John Jeffrey. The Great White Shark is now World Rugby’s vice-president and after thanking the hosts he went slightly off message to declare that Gregor Townsend’s side were “the best ever Scotland team to take the field”. Was the heat getting to him? Perhaps, but JJ firmly believes in this squad. “And there’s no reason why, despite being in the supposed group of death, we can’t qualify from the group,” he said later.

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After the speeches were over, the players took to the stage to receive their World Cup caps and medals - and this was before a ball had been kicked. The players looked the part which was just as well in this most stylish of French regions where the Musée Masséna rubs shoulders with old fashioned glamour. Situated on the Promenade des Anglaise, its next door neighbour is the famous Le Negresco hotel where Catherine Deneuve, Salvador Dali, Grace Kelly, Louis Armstrong and the Beatles were all habitués. Amid such opulence there was something slightly incongruous about the Scotland players swanning around in their tasseled caps and things became stranger still when a flurry of Scottish country dancing broke out following rousing renditions of La Marseillaise and Flower of Scotland.

Scotland players Finn Russell, WP Nel, Rory Darge, Ollie Smith, Ewan Ashman, Matt Fagerson and Scott Cummings during the official welcome ceremony at Muséé Masséna in Nice.  (Photo by Shootpix/ABACA/Shutterstock)Scotland players Finn Russell, WP Nel, Rory Darge, Ollie Smith, Ewan Ashman, Matt Fagerson and Scott Cummings during the official welcome ceremony at Muséé Masséna in Nice.  (Photo by Shootpix/ABACA/Shutterstock)
Scotland players Finn Russell, WP Nel, Rory Darge, Ollie Smith, Ewan Ashman, Matt Fagerson and Scott Cummings during the official welcome ceremony at Muséé Masséna in Nice. (Photo by Shootpix/ABACA/Shutterstock)

Jeffrey revealed that the medals the players received were made from recycled mobile phones gathered from community clubs, an attempt to maintain a link between the elite superstars and the game’s grassroots.

After the formal part of the ceremony was over, Scott Cummings was put up for media duties and the Scotland forward was inevitably asked about Jeffrey’s bold claims.

“It’s tough to say when you are in the team,” Cummings answered diplomatically. “But we’re really happy with the depth we’ve got just now. There are real quality players throughout the 33, there isn’t much drop-off when certain players aren’t in the side, there’s always the next man ready to step in and represent the jersey well.”

The Glasgow second row knows that only too well. He established himself in the Scotland team at the last World Cup, in Japan, but misfortune with injury has hampered him over the last couple of seasons and he now finds himself behind Grant Gilchrist and a resurgent Richie Gray in the pecking order. Cummings is expected to be on the bench for Sunday’s opener against South Africa in Marseille where he is likely to come up against the Springboks’ infamous ‘Bomb Squad’. He seemed unfazed by the prospect of facing the high impact replacements. “We are excited for that first game,” he said. “South Africa are playing really well, we know how they play, they play their style, so we know what’s coming, but we’re really excited about facing that challenge against the reigning champions.”

Scotland are basing themselves near Valbonne, around 28 kilometres from Nice, but will play their second World Cup Pool B game, against Tonga, at the city’s Allianz Riviera, the stadium where Cummings made his international debut in 2019. The visitors were on the wrong end of a 32-3 defeat that evening but returning to the Côte d'Azur still stirs happy memories for the 26-year-old.

“It’s a lovely place,” he said. “I actually had my first cap here four years ago in a World Cup warm-up match. So, great memories of Nice, an absolutely lovely part of France, great sun, great weather, great beach and all the places we’ve been we’ve been really welcomed by the French. We’re just really excited to be here over the next month and a half to two. I’m not a fan of the hot weather. But it’s quite nice training in shorts and a T-shirt, and it’s not raining like we are used to in Scotland. So, the weather is lovely but hopefully it cools down a bit over the next couple of weeks.”

It was a sticky night when he made his debut, coming off the bench to replace Ben Toolis in the second half. He wasn’t able to turn the game around but he did enough to establish himself in the side and played in all four matches at the World Cup in Japan. “I remember it being very hot,” he said. “It was obviously tough. It wasn’t the rugby performances we wanted but getting my first cap was an amazing achievement and a great moment. I remember it being well into the 30s and France played really well, while we didn’t play as well as we should have. I was presented with my cap after the game in the changing rooms by Dee Bradbury, the former SRU president. My family and partner were out there as well so it was a great moment for all of us.”

Cummings hopes there will be many more to come over the next few weeks in France.



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