Gregor Townsend insists he is excited to go toe-to-toe with some of world rugby’s biggest-hitters on the global stage, after Scotland were dealt a tough draw for the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France.
Scotland – who exited last year’s tournament in Japan in the pool stage – will face reigning champions and world No.1 ranked side South Africa in Pool B, as well as Guinness Six Nations rivals Ireland and qualifiers from Europe and the Asia/Pacific regions.
After being edged out 26-20 in their last meeting with the Springboks in 2018, and having not come out on top in a meeting between the sides since 2010, Townsend is well aware of the challenge South Africa represent.
The 1999 Championship winners’ recent history against Ireland also makes for difficult reading, with Andy Farrell’s charges having won 20 of the teams’ previous 25 clashes, including in both the Guinness Six Nations and Autumn Nations Cup this year.
“I believe it’s the toughest pool on current world rankings,” Townsend said. “South Africa are ranked first, Ireland are fifth, and we’re seventh. So, all three teams are in the top eight in the world. That means it’s going to be very competitive.
“There’s an excitement when you see the draw and I think it will be a wonderful tournament. Then the reality of who you’re playing against hits.
“The teams still to qualify are also very strong and could go from strength to strength in the next few years.
“But every four years this tournament gets bigger and bigger. That’s something to look forward to.”
While the rest of the pool draw is compounded by the fact that New Zealand or France could be waiting in the wings at the quarter-final stage should Scotland progress, Townsend believes there are plenty of positives to take from his side’s recent exploits.
After signing a contract extension to keep him in charge of the national side until after the World Cup earlier this month, the 47-year-old is looking forward to building on fourth-places finishes in both the Guinness Six Nations and Autumn Nations Cup in 2020.
And with The British & Irish Lions heading off to South Africa in 2021, Townsend has challenged his squad to push for selection in a bid to aid their Rugby World Cup preparations.
He said: “I feel very honoured to have been given that extension. I love working with this group of players and the staff that we have, and it does get you looking forward to a big tournament being held in the northern hemisphere.
“We have the Six Nations every year and the short-term focus is there – but we also have the long-term focus of developing a team and a squad that can play its best rugby in 2023.
“Playing Test match rugby against South Africa would be a great experience for our players. Hopefully we’ll have a number of guys involved and gaining insight into the strategies that will be deployed during that tour.”