The ‘Toony Tombola’ appears to have rolled to a standstill, with a reassuringly predictable Scotland starting XV for Sunday’s World Cup opener against South Africa in Marseilles being named yesterday lunchtime – but the national head coach promised that a lack of surprises in selection will not translate into a dearth of imagination on the pitch.

On the contrary, Gregor Townsend believes that familiarity with each other and the game plan can be the key to this group of players writing their name in history by becoming the first Scotland side ever to beat a team placed higher than them in the world rankings at a World Cup.

Scotland are currently ranked fifth on the planet while the world champion Springboks are second in the pecking order (behind only Ireland – who also happen to be in Scotland’s World Cup pool).

“The majority of these players have played together all year,” reasoned Townsend. “While a couple of players missed the Six Nations – Rory Darge and Darcy Graham – it’s a team that deserves to go out there. They have earned the right to start in such an important fixture because of the way they have played, and the way they have trained.

“We have built a lot of cohesion over the last two or three months by training with certain combinations week after week. We’ve seen the benefits of doing that transfer into the warm-up games, and now it’s about delivering the most complete game we have done this year.”

Townsend added that the team are ready to embrace their underdog tags, and added that they will draw confidence from the way they performed against France – ranked third in the world – in Saint Etienne four weeks ago, even if they ultimately came up short in that match.

“It [being underdogs] was something we mentioned when we played France away. We had nothing to lose in that game. We were playing the favourites for the World Cup in front of their own supporters, and we said to go out there and play like there was nothing to lose.

“For a lot of that game we did that and almost came away with a win, so that mindset is a good one to have. But we also need the mindset that we can win and if we’re ahead in the game, we need to put the foot down and keep playing, keep doing the things that got us ahead.

“There is an expectation that it’s going to be a very emotional and exciting build-up.  I’m sure the players will feel the sense of adrenaline, nerves and excitement as we get closer to kick-off. But that can be turned into a real positive. It can narrow your focus but also give you that extra energy boost that you need.”

If selection was based purely on form, then Zander Fagerson would have missed out given that the tight-head prop has played only 50 minutes of rugby since Glasgow Warriors’ Challenge Cup Final loss to Toulon in May, due to his red-carding and subsequent two-match suspension for a dangerous ruck clear-out against France last month.

In reality, that crucial position is an area where Scotland are desperately short of depth and the 27-year-old was always going to come straight back in for this game against arguably the most formidable scrummaging side in the world as soon as he was available again.

“He’s fresh, he’s trained really hard, and we’ve scrummed a lot,” said Townsend. “I don’t believe it [not playing much rugby] affects props as much as maybe backline positions where getting touches on the ball, making defensive decisions in difficult situations, you need the match practice.

“Zander is very fit. His work is going to be in the set-piece and at close quarters. I see it as a bonus that he’s been able to do more fitness work. We had our best scrummaging session of the campaign on Wednesday which was great.

“We’ve spent a lot of time on our scrum. Zander has been a key part of it, and with the looseheads we have competing hard against him and the competition we have at tight-head, he’s got a lot of match fitness in terms of what he will be doing at the weekend.”

Meanwhile, veteran hooker Stuart McInally, who was part of Scotland’s extended training squad over the summer but did not make the cut, has postponed his retirement from the game to fly out to France as cover for Ewan Ashman (although he hasn’t officially joined the 33-man squad at this stage).

“We picked up two injuries in training,” explained Townsend. “Ewan and George Horne both had concussions so they’ll be ruled out for this weekend, and we don’t play next week so it will be 12-day turnaround minimum. Hopefully they recover fully to be available for our training week ahead of Tonga.”

“It’s obviously a specialised position, the front-row, and we must have cover, or we wouldn’t be able to put out 15 players and we’d have to go uncontested scrums, so it’s great that Stuart is here,” he added.

“But there are certain rules and regulations he has to abide by. He can’t train with the team. He’s here as a precaution. We obviously hope that George Turner and Dave Cherry [the two hookers in this weekend’s match-day squad] get through training and the game, and also that Ewan makes a full and quick recovery, and we don’t need to make any changes to our squad.”

In the end, the most surprising aspect of Townsend’s selection was the bench, where he has opted for a five-three split between forwards and backs, as opposed to mimicking the Springbok strategy of super-charging their pack during the second half with a six-two split.

“There were a couple of reasons,” the head coach explained. “We’ve had six-two a couple of times this year and it was of benefit in Paris when we had a red card to Grant Gilchrist inside the first 10 minutes, and we know with the flexibility of someone like Blair Kinghorn that we can go six-two.

“But we felt that we wanted to bring on players who can make an impact and help us win. Players who can cover specific positions. If you go six-two, you are compromised in the backline.

“We didn’t want that situation and, also, we’ve got to be cognisant that Darcy Graham has just come back from a [quad] niggle, so has Blair Kinghorn. We’ve got to make sure we cover that eventuality."