SCOTLAND must finish at least 10th in next month's Junior World Championship in Auckland if they are to avoid missing out on the 2015 competition.
The task was onerous enough after the draw pitched the Scots in with South Africa, New Zealand and Samoa, but Sean Lineen's side will face an additional challenge since Italy, as hosts of next year's competition. will automatically qualify for the 12-team event. That means if Italy finish 12th next month, a likely scenario, then it will be the 11th-placed team that will be relegated to the second tier competition for 2015, and that could be Scotland.
The Scots' difficult pool means it will be difficult to avoid the 9th-12th shoot-out in the last two rounds. A win in round four, however, would guarantee that Scotland's top-tier status.
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"We know we've got to go out there and fight incredibly hard. That's basically it. That's the draw and we've just got to get on with it" said Lineen, who expressed satisfaction with his squad's progress after playing matches this week against Ireland on Sunday and Wales on Wednesday, the short turnaround aimed at simulating JWC conditions.
Speaking after Scotland's 31-19 defeat by Wales in Bridgend on Wednesday night, Lineen said : "Over the two games we've advanced a lot. I spoke to the Welsh coach and he said 'you guys have really improved' . But we're still not winning and you want these guys to experience winning because they're working incredibly hard. They've come from a long way back in terms of conditioning. But overall from the two games I'd give us a passmark. We know it's going to be tough in New Zealand but I think we could surprise a few teams."