Scotland’s World Cup hopefuls face crunch time in Tbilisi

This is where the pressure really kicks in for the Scotland players who face Georgia in a historic Test match in Tbilisi today. They know the coaches will sit down to pick through the bones of everything they did and will select a World Cup squad on the basis of it.

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend is preparing to name his full World Cup squad on Tuesday. Picture: SNS/SRU

For Stuart McInally, the captain, that is a positive, one factor that should help overcome some of the deficiencies the team have shown over the years. No time or place for players not prepared to meet fire with fire from the start.

“Everyone knows the squad is going to get chosen after this game, that is going to bring its own energy,” he said. “The players will want to go out tomorrow, put their hands up and make a really strong case to Gregor [Townsend, the head coach] and the coaches to pick them. You can feel selection for that 31 is just round the corner and everyone is desperate to be on that plane.”

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Nobody knows better than McInally that the last time he led Scotland, they fell flat and paid a heavy price in their 32-3 defeat by France in Nice. Not only did it damage a few reputations but it certainly did his case for being World Cup captain no favours.

This week, he is looking for a different attitude. No room for players to ease their way into the game, that passion and aggression has to be there from the start if they are to subdue a Georgian team fired up on patriotic fervour and the sense of history from being the first side to play a Tier One nation in Tbilisi.

“We spoke a lot about attitude,” McInally said. “In defence, you choose to get yourself in the right headspace. I thought the boys defended really well last week, though it was not a complete performance by any stretch, but it was certainly a massive improvement [from the first game].

“The two tries we conceded were not off the back of defence being wrong, it was a dropped ball and an interception. We have to get our mindset right against a big Georgian team who, we know, are going to come directly at us.”

The ideal for McInally would be a repeat of his first shot at captaining Scotland when they travelled to Argentina on the back of the USA defeat, set out their stall early with two tries, silenced the crowd and won at a canter.

“That was a really great game for us,” he said. “After losing the week before, we wanted to show we could win away from home. That was one of the best performances I have been involved with for Scotland. Argentina share a lot of strengths with Georgia. That day we fronted up well and our scrum worked well. That is going to be a big key to how we go in this game.”

After all, as Matt Taylor, the defence coach, pointed out, defence is mainly in the mind, the player prepared to throw himself into the job will usually succeed, the one who sits and waits for the game to come to him won’t.

“A lot of defence is about attitude and mindset,” he said. “The second part is work rate, and the third part is systems. If you don’t have the attitude and mindset, the other two don’t really matter. Our attitude and mindset has to be right up there from the word go. We’ve spoken about it and I’m sure the boys will deliver.”

As for the injured players, the coaches will have to decide on Fraser Brown without seeing him in action before heading for Japan, but Blade Thomson and Tommy Seymour, who got head knocks last week, are both expected to be available next week as is Jonny Gray, who has recovered from his hamstring problem.

For some, it is last orders at the last chance saloon. The way they played in Nice could have been enough to end their World Cup dreams. That is mainly bench players today, such as Jamie Bhatti and Josh Strauss – the 20 minutes to half an hour they hope for will be their only chance.

At the opposite extreme lie the players, led by Rory Hutchison, the centre making his first start, who began on the squad fringe and have worked their way closer to the centre. For him and Matt Fagerson in particular this could be their moment of glory.

Then there is the captaincy issue. McInally is favourite to keep the job but he has Greig Laidlaw and John Barclay in the team beside him and both would like the job as well, while Grant Gilchrist has also had his go at leading the side.

“It is so good having them around, I lean on Greig and John a lot,” said McInally. “I have already told them not to be shy speaking up, I want them to take the lead in certain things because I can’t do it on my own and it would be silly not to tap into their wealth of experience, well over 100 caps between them.”