JACK DEMPSEY believes that Scotland are now ready for the monumental challenge of facing the world champion Springboks – who are flying high after defeating the All Blacks 35-7 on Friday night – in their World Cup curtain-raiser in Marseilles on Sunday 10th September.
Speaking after Scotland’s 33-6 home win over Georgia in their final pre-tournament hit-out match on Saturday evening, the No 8 – who was the home team’s top carrier in that game – promised that the players will throw the kitchen sink at the challenge they face in a fortnight’s time.
“Each of the four warm-up games this summer has presented us with a different sort of challenge. We’ve met it head-on and been largely successful,” reasoned the 29-year-old, who played in the 2019 World Cup for Australia before switching nations through World Rugby’s new three-year stand-down rule.
“That has to be a positive heading into a World Cup because you never know what’s going to come your way,” he continued. “Now all the distractions are out the way. We’ve got South Africa next up and we know there’s no hiding. We know what they did to the All Blacks on Friday night. We feel like we are prepared now. All our focus is on that game and we go into it all guns blazing.”
Dempsey says he did not watch the Springboks versus All Blacks match.”I was just doing my own thing in my room,” he cryptically explained, before stressing that Scotland’s focus should be on themselves rather than worrying about the opposition.
“They’ve got to be one of the deepest teams in world rugby and they’ve added a bit of spice with Canan Moodie at 13, who looks like he’s settled in nicely there. So, I’m not going to lie, I think they made a statement [on Friday] to show everyone they should be favourites, defending champions as they are.
“But I think it’s irrelevant for us in terms of the opposition. Our biggest enemy is ourselves. It’s a bit of cliche, I know, and you could say that about any team in world rugby but if you look at the game against Georgia, we were a different team in the second half.
“Now we can laugh about it, but it was one of the more frustrating games I’ve played in. In the first half, I think we just overplayed our hand. There was just so much space out there that we got a bit greedy. Instead of trying to go forward and through Georgia to set up the backs, we just went wide early.
“In the end, we came back. We got a rev-up at half-time, similar to the home game against France, and we fought back with our fitness. We got there in the end.
“In the French game, we switched off for 10 to 15 minutes at the end of the first half and we’re a completely different team. he added. “When we’re on we’ve got to be one of the most electrifying and exciting teams in the world but also we deliver and we’re clinical. But then the flip side is the Jekyll and Hyde story.
“So, for us, it’s just about putting the pressure on in training. The ‘Bomb Squad’ [non-starters in the squad] is going to be defending the way the Springboks do, with a very heavy line-speed coming out the backs and centres, and it’s going to test us in a way we don’t get tested in the Six Nations, because no-one really defends like that. We’re looking forward to it.”
Dempsey made his Scotland debut off the bench against Australia – as luck would have it – at the start of the 2022 Autumn Test Series, and his first start against Argentina at the end of that campaign. It was a similar scenario during the Six Nations, when he played second fiddle off the bench to Matt Fagerson for the first three rounds before taking over the No 8 jersey for the final two games against Italy [a 7-22 home defeat] and Italy [a 26-14 home win].
His ball carrying has been the key factor in his replacing Fagerson this summer in Scotland’s first choice back-row, alongside skipper Jamie Ritchie at blindside and coming-man Rory Darge at openside – and he feels like he is in prime physical condition to deliver on the field.
“It’s a bit like the chicken and the egg theory, in a way,” he explained. “I feel like I bring a lot of impact to the team. But, in an 80-minute Test match, you maybe don’t have that gas left in the tank towards the end to make that same impact if you’re starting.
“So, for me, these past couple of months have been about building up that engine. Credit to the S&C team and the coaching staff for helping me do that.
“Right now, this is the best nick I’ve been in since the last World Cup. Its a different narrative for me then without giving the history lesson but I was more sitting in rehab a long time having come through injuries to get fit for that World Cup. So I was a different kind of fit – I wasn’t match fit whereas now I feel like I’ve got a blend of both.
“And that hit-out against Georgia was my first 80 minutes of the summer. I think I’ve gone 50, 75, 80. For an athlete like me, that’s going to be gold for me going forward.”
Gregor Townsend is certainly pleased with breakaway’s current form.
“Its definitely up there [as one Dempsey’s best performances for Scotland so dar],” said the head coach after the match. “He played really well against Ireland, and he got a starting place by the end of the Six Nations, grew in confidence and grew in influence in the game.
“Jack has got an outstanding skill set. He’s used in the line-out now very effectively – he has grown as a line-out forward. His speed and footwork is up there with the best forwards in the world game.
“And then he’s got sleight of hand. He’s got good passing skills, offload, and he’s developed into a strong defensive player – he’s really fitted in well with the system that Steve Tandy [Scotland’s defence coach] works. So he’s done really well.
“I want to mention Matt Fagerson as well – he came on and made a difference. Of all the guys that came off the bench, I thought Matt had the biggest influence.
“And we’re lucky, or blessed, to have two really good No 8s competing hard for that position. And we know that Matt can cover other positions in the back row – like Jack, but probably if they play together Matt would be the one that plays 6.”