Former Scotland fly-half Craig Chalmers assesses his country's chances at Japan 2019
Craig Chalmers: “Scotland have got a real chance of causing a World Cup upset”
You were in the Scotland side for the 1991 and 1995 World Cups. How big is the summer before a World Cup?
The boys are going to be excited, trying to keep fit to get on that plane. Warm-up games are the worst thing you can have; you need them but they’re a necessary evil unfortunately because people do get injured.
All the home nations will be quite confident going in. The plans will have been laid. They’ll be different playing each team. When it gets down to it, the warm-ups are important for fitness but what matters is how you kick off when you’re there.
What happens in Japan is what counts. The preparation is vitally important in terms of conditioning and fitness. The players will need a bit of a break as it comes to a crescendo. Only 31 players get to go, so there’ll be a lot of disappointed faces.
Doddie Weir said last year that “Scotland are on the cusp of a golden age”. Is that starting to come into fruition and what would make it a golden age for Scotland?
Win the Six Nations, get close to a World Cup final. It’s hard. We were a kick away from maybe being in the final in 1991 when Gavin (Hastings) missed that kick in the semi against England (at 6-6 with 20 minutes to go). That’s the closest I got. But he misses and then England drop a goal to win, so it’s small margins – you need a bit of luck.
I’m not saying Jonny Wilkinson’s drop-goal was luck but if he tried it 100 times more, he’d struggle to get it one time more out of 100 in the rain in Paris. You need luck, you need to keep your main players fit. You need to do it over seven games. You need to win all or most of those seven games.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of this Scotland side? How far can they go?
Scotland lack a bit of consistency in their results. They come off some great wins and then lose some games where they should do better. They need to be more adaptable to different styles. Mix it up, rather than play this 100 miles an hour game which is really effective at times, good front-foot ball – we’ll see.
Finn Russell is adapting, he’s getting better, his decision-making is getting better. We know what he’s capable of when it’s all going well and we’re on the front foot, but there are going to be situations in the World Cup against the top nations when you’re going to have to dig in and play a bit more tactically. It’s getting the balance right.
If Scotland can get all their main players fit and on the plane, they’ve got a real chance of causing an upset. There’s always one or two big upsets. But what’s an upset? Scotland beating South Africa, maybe not so much now. Scotland beating New Zealand would be a big upset.
Scotland beating Ireland, is that an upset? Maybe people would expect Ireland to win that game. But it’s the first game in the group, so it’s a massive chance for Scotland to get off to a good start, get real confidence going into the other pool games. Which aren’t easy. Japan and Samoa will not be easy. Russia should be okay. We saw last time, there are no easy groups.
Do you have a favourite?
Scotland obviously! Listen, it’s hard to look past New Zealand. But I really do think Scotland will do well – I think they’ll get off to a good start.
We need to win our group to progress. We’ve never beaten the All Blacks, so I think we’d want to play South Africa in the quarter-finals. We could beat South Africa, we’ve beaten them before. But I think South Africa will be good. They’re one of the teams that will be well prepared for the World Cup under Rassie Erasmus. They’ve got some gas, they’ve got some physicality. They’ve beaten the All Blacks, they’ve got that experience and that confidence.
Wales are full of confidence and have got that winning mentality. They don’t know how to lose any more. I think they’ve got to take a chance. The Welsh will be desperate to give Warren Gatland a good send-off as well, he’s had a great tenure with Wales.
But you look at the depth England have got. If they can resolve the issues they had in the second half against Scotland, then they’re capable as well. It’s so, so open. England have got a tough group with Argentina and France, you just don’t know what to expect. Two teams that can be brilliant one day and not so good the next.
So it’s going to be interesting. It’s going to be an exciting World Cup. It’s a neutral ground as well so I think there are five or six teams that can win it.
What I’d love to see is a northern hemisphere team win it. There’s only one that’s ever won it, England. So England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland. Ireland have never made the semi-finals of a World Cup, they don’t perform well at World Cups. They had a bad Six Nations. Come off a Grand Slam, they beat the All Blacks twice, so they’ve got players in the squad with a lot of experience and that mental strength.
If they’ve done it before, they can do it again. Not many teams can say that. It’s going to be fascinating, it’s going to be brilliant. Unfortunately, I’m not going out (to Japan). I’ll be in Thailand, so I’ll get close!
Can the home nations do anything? Any upsets?
In 2015, when Eddie Jones was in charge of Japan, they beat South Africa in Brighton. That’s the sort of upset you could get in Japan. As long as it’s not Japan v Scotland.
But it might be, it might be Japan v Ireland – who knows? You can’t take these teams easily – they’re well prepared nowadays. There’s less difference between these teams in the big matches. And you’ve got a lot of Kiwis, Aussies and Islanders playing for Japan nowadays.
It’s going to be a good World Cup, people will get behind it. A lot of people will travel from the southern hemisphere as it’s a little closer to them.
Who will light up the World Cup?
Hopefully someone like Finn Russell. You want the players from your own country to be the ones that are lighting it up.
Beauden Barrett has not had a World Cup (he played six games in 2015 but only started once), he’s somebody I enjoy watching. He’s still on his day the best fly-half in the world. He’s not the best kicking fly-half in the world but he’s certainly the best running fly-half in the world. If he’s firing for New Zealand, it’s going to be hard for everybody else.
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Craig Chalmers is available as a speaker from Champions Speakers – click on the link for further information.