IT never ceases to amaze me how some fans – and especially those with laptops – seem to take leave of their senses whenever Scotland face a big test on the football or rugby field.

We are just weeks away from the Rugby World Cup and in the run-up to their opening match against Japan on September 23, Scotland start a series of summer Tests on Saturday with a tough away match against Ireland in Dublin.

Some otherwise sensible people seem to think Scotland can do something special at this World Cup and reach the latter stages of the tournament, ie the semi-finals.

We haven’t done that since 1991, so I can’t agree with the super-optimists. Please, please, please stop all this havering and concentrate on getting to the quarter-finals or at least finishing third in Pool B to guarantee our participation in the next World Cup.

First we must address a quandary that faces every top player as the World Cup approaches – just how hard do you play in the warm-up matches? Should you risk injury and a non-appearance on the biggest stage in the game, or play three-quarter pace stuff and hope to scrape into the playing squad for the tournament?

It’s a real concern for Scotland, because while we have more strength in depth than for many years, the loss of one or two key figures from the starting XV would be pretty catastrophic.

I well remember John Rutherford at our first World Cup in 1987. The man I consider to be Scotland’s greatest-ever No 10 injured his knee in an unofficial match in Bermuda and consequently didn’t last long in the opening match against France before he had to retire – and leave the international rugby scene altogether.

The game is so much more physical than in Rutherford’s day and the warm-up matches against Ireland, Italy (home and away) and France in Paris are much, much tougher than most warm-up games have any right to be.

The players will have to give their all to get a result in any of the four games and ensure their selection against Japan, and that is the risk coach Vern Cotter has to take – he wants to get his men battle-hardened and that means taking a chance on the loss of a few players. Let us just hope he is correct in his strategy, but it is a big, big risk.

As for the tournament itself, while there are some pundits who feel Scotland might even beat South Africa on October 3, more realistically we should concentrate on beating Japan and the USA and then go all out for victory over Samoa on October 10 to finish second.

Anyone thinking that Scotland can win Pool B or even feel entitled to beat Samoa comfortably for the runners-up spot should stop taking the happy pills now.

Japan and the USA will not be easy, but Scotland should beat them. Samoa are the real test, because they are currently ranked two places higher than Scotland in the world rankings at No 9. Lest it be forgotten, in the last fixture between the two nations in South Africa two years ago, Samoa ran out 27-17 winners.

In Newcastle Falcons centre Alesana Tuilagi, they have a captain of indomitable strength and no little skill, and most of the first XV now play in Europe, so far from being pushovers, Samoa will make Scotland work for every score and a Scottish win is absolutely not guaranteed. I think we can do it, but it will be very tough.

We will be very lucky to get close to South Africa at all, because they will be a different proposition altogether from the XV that beat the Scots, ahem, 55-6, in Port Elizabeth last year.

Scotland have beaten South Africa just twice since the Springboks were allowed back into the rugby world after apartheid, and both those wins were at Murrayfield. Yes, Scotland have improved since that dire day last summer, but so have South Africa, and though they lost all three of their games in the Rugby Championship this year, they got close to Australia and New Zealand, and deserve to retain their place in the rankings as the second-best team on the globe.

The only glimmer of hope for Scotland is that Argentina surprised the Boks on Saturday by beating them for the first time. But South Africa were not at full strength, and coach Heyneke Meyer was trying a new blend that plainly didn’t work.

South Africa appeared to have been boosted by the news that inspirational captain Jean De Villiers had almost fully recovered from a horrific knee injury only for De Villiers to suffer a fractured jaw playing against Argentina.

It is proof positive that even the fittest and best players can pick up serious injuries prior to major tournaments, and I think we should resign ourselves to losing a couple from the Scotland squad before the World Cup even starts.

On a personal note, can I wish my friend the new SRU president Ed Crozier all the best in his year in office. It seems like just yesterday – but it’s 35 years ago – that he and I were turning out for Dumbarton RFC, now merged into Loch Lomond RFC.

Ed is a club man through and through, and has always worked hard for those he represents. That’s why he got elected, and that’s why I believe he will be successful in this high office.