SCOTLAND ON THE RWC STAGE
In Gavin Hastings and Chris Paterson, Scotland have supplied two of the greatest kickers in Rugby World Cup history. Second and sixth in the all-time RWC points-scoring list, before hanging up their boots they contributed 367 tournament points between them – 38 per cent of Scotland’s overall tournament total.
Unfortunately their points-scoring heroics have not helped Scotland deliver the ultimate prize in the sport – the Webb Ellis Cup. And somewhat ironically it was an uncharacteristic miss from in front of the posts by Hastings in the semi-final of RWC 1991 that ultimately robbed them of their best chance of a shot at glory.
The Rugby World Cup draw has also been unkind on Scotland over the years, three of their first four quarter-final appearances being against the might of New Zealand. Indeed, Scotland exited the inaugural Rugby World Cup after a defeat by the All Blacks, and this was to become a recurring theme over the next decade or so.
RWC 1991 was an exception. With the core of the team that had won the Grand Slam the previous year – and had given a New Zealand a run for their money in their own backyard on a summer tour – Scotland were in a positive frame of mind entering the second tournament. With all their pool matches and the quarter-final and semi-final scheduled at Murrayfield there was a golden opportunity for Scotland to do something special.
Big wins over Japan and Zimbabwe and a play-off victory over Ireland secured a place in the last eight where they would face Western Samoa, the surprise conquerors of Wales. Scotland turned in a fine display to beat the Pacific Islanders 28-6 and set up a reenactment of the 1990 Grand Slam decider against England. With the scores tied at 6-6, Hastings was presented with a kick at goal which, to him, seemed like a formality. Inexplicably he put his effort inches wide and England went on to win a gruelling contest 9-6.
Despite losing chief playmaker Gregor Townsend to a knee injury on the eve of the 1995 tournament, Scotland headed to South Africa in a positive frame of mind. Routine wins over Ivory Coast (89-0) and Tonga (41-5) were completed, before the crunch pool match against France.
Scotland had beaten France in the Parisian sunshine earlier in the year and they were on course to do so again in Pretoria having established a good lead. But France caught Scotland unawares with a quickly-taken lineout that led to Emile Ntamack’s last-gasp, match-winning try. Another quarter-final against the All Blacks beckoned as a result and, despite giving a good account of themselves, Scotland were beaten 48-30 in what proved to be Hastings’ farewell match.
Once again, the loss of key men to injury hampered Scotland in the build-up to the 1999 tournament. The last-ever Five Nations champions made it through the pool stages – and an additional quarter-final play-off match – but the last eight was as far as they got with New Zealand once again standing in their way.
Likewise, RWC 2003 was solid yet unspectacular. Scotland made the quarter-finals, but only after Tom Smith’s late try, converted by Paterson, had helped dig them out of a hole against Fiji. Scotland played their hearts out in the knockout stages to hold the Wallabies to 9-9 at half-time. But eventual winners Australia turned up the heat in the second half to win 33-16.
In 2007, Scotland swept past Portugal and Romania before controversially fielding what amounted to a second string against New Zealand as they looked to rest key men ahead of the crunch pool match against Italy. The All Blacks beat Scotland 40-0 but an 18-16 win over Italy in St Etienne enabled head coach Frank Hadden to temporarily silence his critics. Scotland faced Argentina, the tournament’s surprise package, in the quarter-final and fell just short of a second semi-final, going down 19-13 at the Stade de France.
All four of Scotland’s pool matches in RWC 2011 were settled by tight margins, with wins over East European duo, Romania (34-24) and Georgia (15-6) followed by defeats to Argentina (13-12) and England (16-12), which sent Scotland packing before the knockout stages for the first time.
Gavin Hastings holds the record for most conversions in Rugby World Cup history with 39 – two more than New Zealand’s Grant Fox.
Scotland had to be at their best in 1991 to beat a Western Samoa side that contained players of the calibre of Frank Bunce and Pat Lam. They duly delivered, beating the conquerors of Wales 28-6 in what was arguably their best-ever Rugby World Cup performance.
If Gavin Hastings could change one thing about his illustrious career it would be THAT miss against England in the 1991 semi-final.
“Walking out at Lancaster Park for the opening match with France was awe-inspiring. We really knew that we were part of something special…” - Scotland legend Gavin Hastings on the wonder of the first Rugby World Cup.
Having seen how Wales had fallen into the trap of trying to play Samoa at their own expansive game, Scotland used their forward dominance and tactical kicking to help them to a 35-20 win at RWC 1999. At one stage Irish referee David McHugh awarded an amazing 12 scrums in an eight-minute period, with the eventual outcome being a penalty try to Scotland.
Scotland’s most-capped player Chris Paterson did not miss a single attempt at goal during RWC 2007. His fine form continued into the 1998 Six Nations and beyond before he eventually missed after 38 consecutive kicks at goal.