SIGN UP for our newsletter ✉️ :

Get the latest stories delivered straight to you

Rugby World Cup 2023: 'Best Scotland ever need performance of lifetime against South Africa'

Johnnie Beattie
Johnnie Beattie

2023 Rugby World Cup

Hosts: France Dates: 8 September to 28 October

Coverage: Full commentary of every game across BBC Radio 5 Live, Radio 5 Live Sports Extra and Radio Scotland, plus text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app.

The other day, John Jeffrey called Gregor Townsend's current team the best Scottish side there's ever been and I can't argue with him. Certainly, it's the best I have ever watched in my lifetime.

They're the most enjoyable, the most coherent, the most fluid, the quickest side we have ever produced. They're the most threatening and the most consistent.

Watching how Gregor has them set up and the ambitious way they want to play the game, I just wish it was like that when I played.

The reality is that the best Scottish team we've produced are up against it to get out of the pool. The world numbers one, two and five in the same group. It's cruel. One outstanding rugby team is going home.

Ireland just won a Grand Slam following on from winning a series in New Zealand. South Africa just bludgeoned the All Blacks by a record score. This has to be the toughest group in World Cup history.

The optimistic part of me wants to believe that Scotland will emerge, but let's look at the record books...

We've won how many games against Ireland in the last 20? Four. And we've lost the last eight.

We've won how many in the last 20 against South Africa? Two - and we've lost the last seven.

That's the scale of the task that awaits us. The optimistic part of me says that if there's ever been a time when Scotland can pull off an upset of this magnitude then it could be now. We're talking about delivering the perfect game. Nothing less.

It's Marseille, it's your opener, it'll be 28 degrees or thereabouts on Sunday and it's the world champs down the other end. Anybody who loves rugby will be glued to it. What a stage to play in.

Our scrum has to achieve parity against a huge pack. Our lineout, our defence, our discipline, our kicking game, our conversion of opportunities has to be perfect.

Can we fire the shots required to upset the Springboks? I believe we can, but we need a performance of a lifetime.

The pack has to break even and, if they do, then Finn Russell is the ideal man to create space, to bring our dangerous midfield into it, to get the ball wide to Duhan van der Merwe and Darcy Graham, two absolutely brilliant finishers. They'll need to create havoc for 80 minutes.

Finn is in an elite bracket of foreign 10s that have lit up the Top 14. In terms of creative genius and entertainment value he's right up there with Jonny Wilkinson and Dan Carter, the only difference being that those boys won titles.

It didn't happen for Finn in that sense, but he is absolutely loved here. People say what a joy it was to watch him play for Racing and how he made things happen on a rugby field in a way that most other 10s couldn't. He is a revered character.

Globally, people have written Scotland off. The casual fan will see it as a Springbok win and nothing will change their mind on that.

Equally, I think, a huge number of rugby fans around the world have adopted Scotland as their second team, just because of the way we play, the risk-taking and the focus on attack.

'Shadow sits over curtain-raiser'

What a first weekend it's going to be in my adopted land. I'm now a citizen of France. My wife and children are fully immersed in French culture.

I remember as a kid watching French teams playing on television and I remember asking my papa, who is now mid-90s, why is the sun always shining there?

It was always in the back of my head that if I had the chance to come over here to experience this country then I would and that opportunity came when I was 25.

Fabien Galthie, now the French coach, took me to Montpellier - a brilliant hustle-bustle student town on the beach. Then I went to Castres - country-living and unbelievably passionate about their rugby. And Bayonne - on the south-west coast half an hour from Spain.

All distinct, all amazing. There's so many different facets to France and I hope the visiting fans get to experience it.

The curtain-raiser is, of course, France versus the All Blacks on Friday. Everybody here has looked forward to this for years but there's a shadow over it now.

It was the injuries to Paul Willemse, Cyril Baille and Romain Ntamack to begin with, then Jonathan Danty was ruled out for the New Zealand game.

But that was small-time compared to the furore surrounding the call-up of the Montpellier lock, Bastien Chalureau.

Chalureau is currently appealing against a six-month prison sentence for a racially motivated attack in 2020. He's admitted to violence but not to racism, which he denies.

It's been a massive story over here. Once Chalureau came into the squad it's been all over the national media and has gone right to the top of French politics.

You had president Emmanuel Macron visit the team this week and Chalureau was the main talking point. You had Chalureau doing a media conference and breaking down in tears.

It's the kind of last-minute wobbles France could do without, but with the excellent state of French rugby at the minute and the confidence the public has in these players they still see themselves as favourites, not just to beat the All Blacks but to win the entire thing.

They see it as a once-in-a-lifetime chance to win a first rugby World Cup on home soil.

On Friday, I hope for waves of noise and excitement and for French hopes to be realised with a win over the All Blacks.

And for Sunday, I hope Scotland deliver that perfect performance that would shake up the rugby world.

Beattie was talking to BBC Scotland's Tom English

If the form doesn't load properly, go straight to it here...