FOR some of the Scotland players, it has been eight weeks of phoney war. There has been plenty of effort, lots of sweat, huge changes in body shape and overall fitness. But at the end of the week’s labour, there has been no release for all that adrenaline; just another relaxing weekend.

For those who play rugby because they relish the man-to-man confrontations, the aggression and the physical battles, it has been particularly tough.

No wonder, then, they have been mentally targeting this week and hoping they will feature in the team to face France in Nice on Saturday night when the preliminaries to this year’s Rugby World Cup campaign kick off.

“I am fed up with training now,” was the verdict of prop WP Nel. “It is time for games to come – it is time. Pre-season was nice. There was an element that was tough but you see the results and they were quite significant. You feel good about yourself. From my side, the pre-season went well.”

From his point of view, France is about as good as it gets. However they approach the game, whether it is experimental or full-on, the French are going to bring a big, physical pack so Nel and his colleagues will have plenty to take out their pent-up aggression on.

In truth, he is one of those who needs the match only to work on his match fitness. Barring injury, his place on the plane to Japan is secure and he is far too experienced to try to risk anything by pulling back and trying to save himself.

“The bigger they are, the harder they come to the ground,” he said with characteristic relish. “They [France] will always be a challenge and that will always be good for us, especially with what is round the corner. We need to challenge the best and what they can bring to the game as a pack is the best team to play against to see where we are.

“There is always the element that you want to win. You want to be confident going into the World Cup. We need the win on the board but we need to see what is on the pitch as well – what works for us and what does not work for us, especially in the last four weeks before the World Cup. We need to get the fine tuning in there and make sure we are the best we can be.”

It is also an important match in another way for the front row. Tweaks to the scrummage law interpretations mean they need to find out what they can and cannot do before the crucial World Cup games come along.

“That is the first thing we must sort out between us and the ref – to see what the refs want from us,” Nel said. “It is good to have these games coming up to see what the refs want us to do in the scrums and then, as a pack, develop.”

In reality, for all the talk about competition for places, there are probably about 23 or 24 of the 40-man squad who are in the same boat as Nel. For them, the warm-up games are about honing skills, working on match fitness and the new moves they have learned over the last two months. Their places are secure as long as they stay fit.

For the rest, however, the

challenge is different. There are about half a dozen more who are likely to go but facing stiff competition, with the pecking order far from settled.

Take the back-row, for example. John Barclay, Ryan Wilson and Hamish Watson are probably reasonably secure in their positions but that leaves five players going for a likely two places.

You can make an argument for any of them – Magnus Bradbury, Matt Fagerson, Jamie Ritchie, Josh Strauss and Blade Thomson – but the next month will show which of them can make the best argument for himself on the pitch.

Finally, there are a handful of outside bets. Players who could still play their way in but need to do something special to overtake the established internationals.

The most obvious is Rory Hutchison, who was called up after a remarkable end of season at Northampton but is uncapped. As a centre, he faces stiff competition from Duncan Taylor, Peter Horne, Sam Johnson and Huw Jones. To get on the plane, he has to play his way past at least one of them.

“Everyone knows where they stand and that everyone will get the opportunity to show what they can bring to the game,” Nel said. “I don’t think there is a no-man’s land, everyone knows what they bring to the game.”