GREGOR Townsend’s swashbuckling Scotland side are heading to the Rugby World Cup in France with no fear and bags of belief despite being placed in a formidable pool along with two of the world’s established heavyweights in Ireland and South Africa.

Ordinarily, such a scenario would leave Scotland supporters resigned to a group-stage exit.

Yet this team, ranked fifth in the world, has delivered enough under Townsend, particularly over the past year, to suggest it is ready to peak in France and find a way into the knockout phase.

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That will almost certainly require a victory over one of the two powerhouses in the group, but three exhilarating showdowns with hosts France – a home win and two narrow away defeats – this calendar year allied to the fact they led New Zealand by nine points with less than 20 minutes to play last November have helped imbue the Scots with a belief that they can match any team on the planet.

Ireland and South Africa have proven particularly tough nuts for Townsend’s team to crack, but there is a growing feeling that the burgeoning Scots are now equipped to take the scalps of at least one of these big-hitters and give themselves a chance of going deep into the tournament.

Border Telegraph: Borderer Darcy GrahamBorderer Darcy Graham

Experienced lock Grant Gilchrist said: “We have to look at it beyond the group stages,” “If you want to do well at a Rugby World Cup you’re going to have to play the best teams in the world.

“We have two of the best in the world in our group and we have to see that as a positive that we get to go out and really test ourselves against the best teams and prove we can beat them.

“We believe that if we get the best version of ourselves on the pitch at any given time we can beat these big teams.

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“We’re going to have to produce the goods in the group stage if we want to progress but if you want to do really well in the tournament, you need to beat big teams.”

Duhan Van Der Merwe, Darcy Graham, Finn Russell, Huw Jones and Sione Tuipulotu are just some of the rampant backs who can cause panic in even the most-robust defences and whose presence adds to the notion that Scotland are now better placed to deliver than in previous World Cup campaigns.

“It’s hard to compare because I was part of all three squads (2015, 2019 and 2023) and I felt in both 2015 and 2019, we had a squad that was capable of doing well but we just didn’t quite achieve in both,” said Gilchrist.

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“In 2015, we were very close. It’s hard to compare one team against the other because I was part of them all and I know how much we believed we were going to do well in Japan.

“But if we’re talking about this squad, we’re in a really good place. We’ve got a bit of work to do but if we can make sure we perform for 80 minutes, we can do something at this World Cup.

“That’s the belief within the group. We know the challenges we face but that excites us and I think we’re in a position to go and face them head on.”