Exploring Scotland’s best performances in the history of the Rugby World Cup

JOINING the exclusive club of Rugby World Cup winners remains a tough challenge for many nations. Ahead of the 2023 Rugby World Cup, only four nations have lifted the famous trophy.

Elite Tier 1 teams such as South Africa and New Zealand have naturally been dominant on the sport’s biggest stage. It has, however, left a situation where there are still a handful of Tier 1 teams that have remained outside of Rugby World Cup success — Scotland is one such nation.

Having been drawn into the Group of Death at the 2023 Rugby World Cup alongside South Africa and Ireland, the Scots were immediately behind the eight-ball in trying to improve their tournament record.

Still, on the biggest stage of all, Scotland have delivered some terrific performances down the years, even though it has not always translated into the right result. Here is a look back at some of Scotland’s best Rugby World Cup performances:

Scotland vs South Africa 1995 

At the 1995 World Cup, Scotland squared up against France in a Pool D showdown for the top spot. The prize for winning the match was avoiding New Zealand in the last eight. It was a tremendous clash in Pretoria, with Scotland giving as good as they got. The Scots put themselves into a strong position, at 13-3 up at the break.

They were trying to defend a 19-15 lead as full-time was in sight in the match. However, Émile Ntamack broke the Scottish line in the final play to touch down in the corner. France won 22-19 with the converted try. Scotland subsequently lost to New Zealand in the quarterfinals.

Scotland vs Australia 2015

There was a thrilling quarterfinal clash between Scotland and Australia at the 1995 Rugby World Cup. In the clash at Twickenham, Scotland were trying to hang on to a two-point lead in the closing stages.

The match featured eight tries, with both teams having long spells of momentum. The highlight of this one was Scotland’s brilliant response under the pressure of having had Sean Maitland sin-binned. Instead of crumbling under pressure, they stepped up their game fantastically.

In a dramatic finish, Scotland lost a line-out and referee Craig Joubert handed Australia a penalty, punishing Scotland for a deliberate off-side when a fumbled ball was caught by Jon Welsh.

Controversially, replays indicated the ball had come off Australian player Nick Phipps before Welsh caught it. Bernard Foley kicked the penalty to win the match for Australia 35-34. World Rugby said afterwards that Joubert should have given Australia a scrum, not a penalty.

Scotland vs England 2011

In Pool B at the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, there was a brilliant match between England and Scotland in the final round of action. The top spot in the group was still up for grabs at that point.

Scotland needed to win by at least eight points to have any chance of progressing to the knockout stage, having lost a tight match to Argentina in the three-way scrap at the top. It was a classic World Cup match between the Six Nations rivals, with Chris Paterson and Dan Parks keeping the Scots ticking over on the scoreboard with the boot.

Scotland had victory within their grasp until England’s Chris Ashton went over in the corner two minutes from full-time to give England a 16-12 win. It was a ferocious, full-blooded, committed effort from the Scots at a wet Eden Park.

Big Rugby World Cup wins 

Scotland have had some great wins at the Rugby World Cup. Their 45-10 demolition of Japan in 2015 and their 24-15 victory over Ireland in 1991 stand out. The 89-0 hammering of Ivory Coast in 1995 and nail-biting wins over Fiji in 2003 and Italy in 2007 are among some of Scotland’s other most memorable performances.

Best finish

The best result by Scotland at a Rugby World Cup happened in the 1991 edition. After topping their pool ahead of Ireland, Japan and Zimbabwe, the Scots went up against Western Samoa in the quarterfinals and delivered a comfortable 28-6 victory.

That put them into a semifinal against old rivals England. In a low-scoring match, Scotland were edged out 9-6. Scotland then lost 13-6 to New Zealand in the third-place match.

Full-back Gavin Hastings was the tournament’s third-highest points scorer, but he uncharacteristically and crucially missed a penalty against England from almost in front of the posts in their semifinal clash.

Scotland’s World Cup record 

Scotland has been present in all editions of the Rugby World Cup since the inaugural event in 1987. Up to and including the 2019 Rugby World Cup Results, Scotland had posted a W24 D1 L17 record in the tournament, failing to reach at least the quarterfinals on only two occasions.

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