Scotland’s 2023 Rugby World Cup squad one of strongest ever, reckons captain Jamie Ritchie

Former Howe of Fife flanker Jamie Ritchie, this week confirmed as captain for Scotland’s Rugby World Cup campaign, rates the 33-strong squad head coach Gregor Townsend will be taking to France next month as one of the country’s strongest ever.
Scotland captain Jamie Ritchie at Wednesday's Rugby World Cup squad Announcement at South Queensferry (Photo by Craig Williamson/SNS Group/SRU)Scotland captain Jamie Ritchie at Wednesday's Rugby World Cup squad Announcement at South Queensferry (Photo by Craig Williamson/SNS Group/SRU)
Scotland captain Jamie Ritchie at Wednesday's Rugby World Cup squad Announcement at South Queensferry (Photo by Craig Williamson/SNS Group/SRU)

“It’s really strong, arguably probably one of our strongest ever,” said the 27-year-old at Wednesday’s squad announcement.

“I think the depth we have is excellent. If you look at guys who have unfortunately missed out on being in the squad, they could easily have been in there and arguably would have been in there for previous world cups.

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“It’s a really strong group and I think we’re building really nicely.”

This year’s world cup is Ritchie’s second following 2019’s in Japan.

The Scots failed to make it out of their group that time round after losing 27-3 to Ireland and 28-21 to the hosts, though they beat Samoa and Russia by 34-0 and 61-0 respectively, but Ritchie still has fond memories of that trip.

“For me, that world cup was a bit of a whirlwind with the circumstances going into it – getting injured in the game just before we left, not being sure if I was going to play, missing the first game because I hadn’t recovered from my operation, then after the first game, we needed to win every game with a bonus point,” he said.

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“The last game, with the typhoon beforehand and everything going on around it, it was a great game, probably one of my favourite games in a Scotland jersey, even though it was a loss.

“It was just such a massive occasion, one of the best atmospheres I have ever been involved in."

He’s hopeful Scotland can make it out of their group this time round despite being up against the Irish again and defending champions South Africa, kicking off their campaign against the latter on Sunday, September 10.

To progress, the Scots, ranked fifth in the world, will need to beat at least one of those two higher-ranked opponents, Ireland being top-rated and the Springboks fourth.

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They’ve not got the better of the Irish since 2017 and haven’t won against South Africa since 2010 but Ritchie believes they’re capable of pulling off an upset this autumn.

“I’m fairly confident that any opposition we come up against, we can beat, and more likely than not, it will be within our control whether we do or not,” he said.

“We know the challenge we face with the group that we’re in because we know it’s a tough group.

“We’ve got three of the top-five sides in the world in one group, so we’re really excited about that challenge and there’s no better time to take on those two teams than right at the start.”

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Ritchie also feels Scotland are better prepared than they were four years ago, saying: “We know who we are a bit better now.

“We are really clear in what we’re trying to do and how we are trying to play, not that we necessarily weren’t in 2019 but it just feels much better now in terms of ‘right, this is how we are going to attack’.

“Our defence is different and, in my opinion, stronger.

“Everyone is buying in. As a collective, I think we are in a stronger position.

“I think we’ve learned from our experience in 2019 and around what we’ve been doing in pre-season – a little more contact-based stuff and more variety of game focus.

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“We’ve been into rugby from the start, which I think is probably the most important thing.

“I think the way the boys have gone about their work in this off-season period has been outstanding.

“Every session, the boys have worked hard, they’ve emptied the tank, and I couldn’t ask for any more.

“I think that commitment level has made a difference as well.”

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Tonga and Romania are also in the same pool as Scotland, and they play the former on Sunday, September 24, and the latter on Saturday, September 30, before rounding off their pool games against Ireland on Saturday, October 7.