SCOTLAND are in good shape to get out of their World Cup pool next year and reach the knockout stages at least, says Rory Lawson.

SCOTLAND are in good shape to get out of their World Cup pool next year and reach the knockout stages at least, says Rory Lawson.

As one of the men who captained the side in the last tournament in New Zealand, when Scotland failed to progress from their group for the first time, he knows all about the pressures experienced in the early games. Following Scotland's purposeful performances in November, though, he is increasingly confident that normal service will be resumed next year.

It is not just that there were so many encouraging signs, now that Vern Cotter has got his teeth firmly into his role as head coach, but with the 2015 tournament being staged in England, and the key matches in Newcastle, he sees it as virtually a home event with all the advantages that brings.

Scotland will feel much happier coming out of November than any of their pool opponents. South Africa may have scraped past England but they lost to Wales and Ireland; Samoa beat Canada but lost to England and Italy; Japan and the United States both beat Romania but lost every other match they played. In the meantime, Scotland managed their best result against New Zealand for 23 years and beat both Argentina and Tonga, comfortably with five tries in each match.

"It was a really impressive series for Vern Cotter and the boys," Lawson, the former Scotland scrum-half, said. "Everyone is now looking forward to the Six Nations. I have been hugely encouraged by the number of people who are not Scots saying to me 'Scotland are looking good'. A lot of people are sitting up and taking notice.

"The World Cup is still a fair stint away, there is a lot to happen between now and then, but at the moment, Scotland are in a good spot. The key is to keep moving forward and I have no doubt at all that Vern Cotter has a plan in place to do that.

"He has come in and made a difference very quickly and done that by keeping things simple and getting his key messages across. Clarity of roles has to be set from the off and I think you have got that now. I am comfortable that if the squad stays fit then Cotter would be happy dropping a number of guys who were not involved into that environment knowing that they are clear on the role he wants them to be doing and what he expects from them.

"That is the main thing for me. Squad depth is important because injuries happen, but it seems the structures, strategy and culture within the group are all there. Again you have a bunch of guys playing with smiles on their faces and a bit of confidence having been empowered to express themselves within that culture. That can only be a good thing."

Lawson was in World Cup mode, talking from the desert in Dubai on a Land-Rover sponsored expedition to take the Webb Ellis Cup, the trophy handed to the World Cup winning captain, on a global tour to publicise next year's tournament, where Scotland will be playing matches in Gloucester, Leeds and Newcastle.

"With it being on home turf, as it were, it is another great opportunity and the guys know what is expected of them around September/October time of next year," he added. "There will be an element of familiarity with regards to the surroundings: they have just had a camp in Newcastle, a lot of the guys have played at Kingsholm [Gloucester] and Leeds is not that far over the Border. So everyone is going to be hugely excited about the World Cup being in England.

"Scotland have got to be confident about getting out of their pool, though it will be a hugely bruising group. Japan are the best side in Asia and you would not underestimate them, while the USA are similarly improving all the time, but they are both games we should win.

"Then they come up against South Africa and Samoa as the two massive head-to-heads. They will be bruising encounters but the Scotland squad, as it stands, is in a good place. We will know a lot more by the middle to end of March after we have played teams we are more familiar with, with this new coaching structure and strategy in place. There is a lot to happen but Scotland have to be confident.

"Then, if you get out of the group, you are in the knockout stages and anything can happen. You don't worry about who you are going to play in the quarter-final until you are in it. Anyone who does so is a fool."

The key to Scotland's prospects, he says, is to make sure the squad keep developing over the RBS 6 Nations, with the opening clash in France the key to that. "What is French rugby? I'm not sure any more," Lawson added. "They looked impressive but then were comfortably beaten by Argentina. You always go to Paris fearful of what they are capable of but, at the same time, Scotland have been there in the past and managed to disrupt them. They will have learned a lot from watching that Argentina game. There is a lot of rugby still to happen but the French squad looks significantly less settled than the Scotland squad."

After the RBS 6 Nations, attention will turn to the World Cup and Lawson is confident that, having experienced the lows of the last campaign, this group can go further and restore the nation's pride in the team.

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