Hastings rues timing

Former Scotland full-back Gavin Hastings hopes the might of the All Blacks will not wreck his country's World Cup bid. [more]

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Former Scotland full-back Gavin Hastings hopes the might of the All Blacks will not wreck his country’s World Cup bid.

"For me, it is unfortunate that they are playing Italy six days after New Zealand," said Hastings who believes the Azzurri pose a genuine threat to Scotland’s ambitions of reaching the quarter-finals.

Forty-five-year-old Hastings – still the all-time World Cup points record scorer with a total of 227 – agreed with former New Zealand fly-half star Grant Fox that home advantage will make no difference when Scotland face the mighty All Blacks in their Pool C match at Murrayfield on September 23.

Grant, one of more than 50 World Cup legends at last night’s Rugby reUnion dinner in London, is confident New Zealand will not become victims of the immense expectation back home as they did four years ago when they failed to make the final.

"They’re better equipped than 2003 when mistakes were made. There’s far more maturity through the side, they are more experienced and the coaching group have planned it meticulously.

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"No side is unbeatable but the All Blacks record in recent years is very good," he said.

Fox struggled to stifle a laugh at the question of Scotland upsetting the immense odds before replying: "All Blacks sides travel well. I don’t think it matters where we play."

Hastings concurred: "I think that’s fair comment. Having never beaten New Zealand, it isn’t realistically going to happen this time around."

It is Italy who stand between Scotland and the last eight and Hastings said: "That’s a massive game.

"I think Scotland have got to treat New Zealand and Italy as one. That’s what their whole World Cup mentality has to be.

"There shouldn’t be any problems against Portugal and Romania so they have to be at their best against New Zealand because six days later they are playing Italy and, hopefully, the following week they are in the quarters.

"Winning against Italy will give them a huge confidence boost because they will have to work damned hard to get through. Italy will be no mugs.

"If they were to beat Scotland they would go through like a tiger with their tails up and give whoever they meet a stiff test, make no bones about it.

"Too many people are keen to say Italy are very much a poor relation but that’s not true because they have a fierce pack of forwards and some very talented players behind them."

Although Hastings – like most people – is tipping New Zealand to win the trophy, he maintained: "There’s absolutely no way it’s a foregone conclusion. This competition will be incredibly fierce and hard fought and there will be some surprises."

Asked to nominate a team to upset New Zealand, Hastings had absolutely no hesitation in nominating hosts France.

"They have just come through their pre-World Cup matches without much trouble and they are incredibly hard to beat," said Hastings, who also believes Ireland could cause a surprise.

"I think Ireland have to play at the maximum of their potential to have a chance, but they do have a chance. Ireland are capable of really causing an upset somewhere along the line.

Depending on group results, the Irish could face the All Blacks at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium in the quarter-finals on October 6.

"If that happened Cardiff would be a sea of green. It would be just like playing in Dublin for them," added Hastings.

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