Before every major event we get caught up in the madness of predictions. We follow speculation as if it were Gospel. We force ourselves to show blind faith, regardless of what common sense has been telling us for 3 years out of 4.
Suddenly people at the office you rarely speak to are talking to you about sport. That distant mate no one has seen for years is emailing you about fantasy leagues. You’re heading to the bookies when, normally, you’re that person that doesn’t buy a lottery ticket on Rollover day.
In Scotland we rarely get glimpses of this result-hungry nonsense. Paul Lawrie was our last Golf Major winner in 1999 and no one has looked remotely close since.
Our cricket team competes against English county sides.
Our boxing champions get no column inches.
Scottish football has been publicly pronounced dead and we haven’t qualified for a major competition since France ’98.
So when the lovely men at the IRB tell us that we are up to 7th in the official World Rankings, having leapfrogged Ireland on their way to their lowest position ever, we are ecstatic. We’ll take it. What a nice boost for the lads in the Scotland squad.
When someone gives you unexpected good news you want to share it. We are heading towards the only time Scotland are guaranteed a place at the table and we are doing so with a sense of optimism. Sure we are also showing the usual Scottish traits of defiance and pride but we are convincing ourselves we can perform on the big stage.
Goodwill has an uplifting effect. It can, however, also work better if it is kept under a control within the group. In this respect us Scots are lucky. For once cynicism pays off.
Andy Robinson is trying to keep his squad grounded as we rise through the ranks. He knows people are claiming that we will comfortably quell Romania and Georgia. He knows Argentina are losing respect.
On this matter Robinson firmly places a lid on it. “I don’t think the rankings will have too much impact on what happens in the Rugby World Cup, where we’ll have four very tough games in our pool stages and the key focus for us is on winning those games.”
Kipling said that you are a Man if you keep your head about you when all others are losing theirs…
Ireland are in disarray. They have now played a lot of warm-up minutes and lost experienced campaigner David Wallace. Fitness concerns still shroud leaders O’Driscoll, O’Connell and Bowe. They are staring down a date with a fired up USA. On September the 11th.
England, too, seem to be trying too hard. They are playing a colossal amount of rugby and risking injury with every extra unnecessary minute of rugby. Two games with Wales was excessive. They have also hung their hat on tyro Tuilagi in the hope that they won’t need the unpopular Hape (or call up a Flutey a year past his best). Moody seems held together by tape and Cueto, Easter and Sheridan are not at full capacity yet.
So when Tindall states that “everyone will get on there [the plane] a little bit buzzing,” you find yourself reaching for the salt. If they were so comfortable and confident they would not feel the need to come out and say so. Bravado often masks concerns. They are in the press every day. Of course they still have quality and they must try and inspire it any way they can.
Anyway, despite how much Tindall may be overstating the case his comments are easily ignored when the mercurial Marc Lievremont steps up to speak.
In the last few days he has been seriously suggesting France have the quality –and temperament– to win the Webb Ellis Trophy for the first time.
“There are some steps to take, we need to progress through the pool matches to assure our qualification. I will be disappointed if we are not champions of the world,” Lievremont boldly proclaimed.
“This is a real chance for the French team. For the first time in my four years in charge we had the resources and the time to get to know each other and work on fitness and on our rugby.
“I am happy with that but it is what follows that will determine whether it was all worth it. Now, it is all systems go.”
Yes, he has said this.
Despite being told he will be succeeded by Philippe Saint-Andre, losing Yoan Huget to a doping ban and surprisingly flinging aside popular prop Domingo and veteran Marconnet he actually seems calm and considered. He has set his squad and he has given them a legendary target.
Whatever happens we will remember Mad Marc Lievremont and his selection tombola.
Of course if we think we have to deal with a bit of unpredictable press and an overwhelming amount of hype we need only look South to see that a rugby-based panic is like. NZ have, in the last few months, already won the World Cup and then taken it off themselves. They are excited and full of dread at the same time.
Thank you, Andy Robinson, for trying to keep our feet on the ground. By the time the Rugby World Cup kicks off I think we may all have our heads in a long white cloud.