Given their form and their flair, Gregor Townsend’s swashbuckling Scotland side are heading to the Rugby World Cup in France with no fear and bags of belief.

The confidence within the squad is just as well because – due to the draw being made some three years ago – they have had the misfortune of being placed in a formidable pool along with two of the world’s established heavyweights in Ireland and South Africa.

Ordinarily, such a scenario would leave Scotland supporters resigned to a group-stage exit. Yet this team, ranked fifth in the world, has delivered enough under Townsend, particularly over the past year, to suggest it is ready to peak in France and find a way into the knockout phase.

That will almost certainly require a victory over one of the two powerhouses in the group, but three exhilarating showdowns with hosts France – a home win and two narrow away defeats – this calendar year allied to the fact they led New Zealand by nine points with less than 20 minutes to play last November have helped imbue the Scots with a belief that they can match any team on the planet.

Ireland and South Africa have proven particularly tough nuts for Townsend’s team to crack, but there is a growing feeling that the burgeoning Scots are now equipped to take the scalps of at least one of these big-hitters and give themselves a chance of going deep into the tournament.

“We have to look at it beyond the group stages,” experienced lock Grant Gilchrist told the PA news agency. “If you want to do well at a Rugby World Cup you’re going to have to play the best teams in the world.

“We have two of the best in the world in our group and we have to see that as a positive that we get to go out and really test ourselves against the best teams and prove we can beat them.

“We believe that if we get the best version of ourselves on the pitch at any given time we can beat these big teams.

Grant Gilchrist during the 2019 Rugby World Cup

“We’re going to have to produce the goods in the group stage if we want to progress but if you want to do really well in the tournament, you need to beat big teams.”

Gilchrist is going to his third-consecutive World Cup. In both 2015 and 2019 the Scots went into the tournament with high hopes before suffering quarter-final and group-stage exits respectively.

Gilchrist feels there is genuine evidence this time to support the belief that Scotland really are equipped to consistently deal with the world’s top teams – as well as the smaller ones like pool rivals Tonga and Romania – amid the intensity of a World Cup.

“We’ve shown we can compete with all the top nations but we probably haven’t put together that complete performance yet,” he said.

“That’s where we sit in a really good position because we’ve got real evidence to support our belief that we can beat anyone but we also have an understanding of what it takes and how hard it is to produce on the big stage in the big games.

“If we can do that in France, it’s going to be a great World Cup for this group.”

Gilchrist is one of 14 members of the current squad who were also involved four years ago as Townsend’s team suffered an ignominious group-stage exit in Japan following defeats to Ireland and the host nation.

“It was a long time ago and we’ve come a long way since then but I know the guys who felt the way we did after Japan – I know I will – will be driven to make sure we don’t feel like that again this time,” said Gilchrist.

As well as being fuelled by a desire to right the wrongs of 2019, Scotland, who finished third in the Six Nations this year, are also buoyed by a scintillating back-line that is the envy of most teams on the planet.

Duhan Van Der Merwe, Darcy Graham, Finn Russell, Huw Jones and Sione Tuipulotu are just some of the rampant backs who can cause panic in even the most-robust defences and whose presence adds to the notion that Scotland are now better placed to deliver than in previous World Cup campaigns.

“It’s hard to compare because I was part of all three squads (2015, 2019 and 2023) and I felt in both 2015 and 2019, we had a squad that was capable of doing well but we just didn’t quite achieve in both,” said Gilchrist.

“In 2015, we were very close. It’s hard to compare one team against the other because I was part of them all and I know how much we believed we were going to do well in Japan.

“But if we’re talking about this squad, we’re in a really good place. We’ve got a bit of work to do but if we can make sure we perform for 80 minutes, we can do something at this World Cup.

“That’s the belief within the group. We know the challenges we face but that excites us and I think we’re in a position to go and face them head on.”