SCOTLAND get their Rugby World Cup campaign under way in Marseille today with the toughest of opponents standing in their way in the world champions, South Africa.

The chances of Scotland getting to the quarterfinals this year have been regarded by many as quite slim. Not only does their pool contain the Springboks but also the world’s best-ranked team in Ireland. They must beat at least one of them to have a chance of making the knockouts.

Scotland’s record against both these highly physical sides? Not so good. Gregor Townsend's men have not beaten Ireland since 2017 and have only won twice against them in the last decade. It’s been 13 long years since Scotland managed to claim victory over South Africa.

But across the Channel, tartan-clad fans are gathering in their thousands on the south coast of France with the beacon of hope burning brighter than ever. The sunny streets are sizzling with anticipation as, one by one, the clans assemble.

Aside from the fact most believe Scotland are playing the best rugby they’ve ever played right now, there is just something inherently special about travelling as a Scotland fan and joining in with the friendly camaraderie people tend to find infectious.

READ MORE: Rugby World Cup 2023: Scotland's fixtures and how to watch

“Someone told me the other day that when Scotland fans travel, they are different to other fans,” said Angus Thomson, who will be going to every Scotland group game after following them around the world for years.

“The Scottish fans want to mix with other people and that creates a great vibe. We want to embrace the country and fans from other countries, even if that means we have to speak to South Africans!”

In recent years several marches have been organised on match days in support of the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation, with fans wearing tartan headbands as they travel together to stadiums.

Thomson, 60, has organised a similar march from Morrison’s Irish Pub – where fans will meet several hours before the game - to the Stade Velodrome, with hundreds of supporters expected to join with Saltires and Lion Rampants in hand.

The National: Angus Thomson (second from left) with friends Ruaraidh, Euan and Paul Kieran in Marseille Angus Thomson (second from left) with friends Ruaraidh, Euan and Paul Kieran in Marseille (Image: Angus Thomson)

Money will also be raised at the meet-ups through auctions and raffles for charities helping players permanently injured through the sport.

Thomson, who is originally from Montrose but now lives in Brisbane, told the Sunday National: “I know in Rome they have had big marches to the stadiums for Doddie Weir and when we were in Saint-Étienne a few weeks ago lots of people started suggesting we do a march in Marseille. So I thought, why not?”

On Scotland’s chances in the World Cup, Thomson said: “It’s our best chance to really make a statement in this tournament.

“We’ve actually caused South Africa more problems in the past than we have Ireland, and yet people are saying we’ve got a better chance of beating Ireland. If you weave through all that logic, both teams are there for the taking.”

Fans from all walks of life – brought together by the Road to France Facebook page - have been sharing their stories with the Sunday National of hopping on planes, trains and automobiles to follow their heroes.

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After Scotland play South Africa in Marseille, they will go on to face Tonga in Nice in two weeks on Sunday, September 24, before taking on Romania in Lille on Saturday, September 30, and Ireland in Paris on Saturday, October 7.

Shirley Beveridge from Peeblesshire is following Scotland abroad for the first time with her husband Andrew (pictured below).

She said: “We arrived in Lyon on Friday to start our wee trip. We’ll be heading to Marseille by train on Sunday for the South Africa game.

“Andrew was born there but there is no doubt at all about who he’ll be supporting, and that’s Scotland!

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“The Scotland supporters are a fantastic bunch wherever they travel to and I’m really looking forward to joining in the experience, sampling the always wonderful French cuisine and sharing the camaraderie with our fellow proud Scots.”

Retired couple Peter and Moyra Thorburn from Edinburgh have followed Scotland for many years and have travelled to the likes of Italy and Ireland for games.

With a two-week trip planned, they are excited about the opportunity to see Scotland play some tantalising fixtures on the south coast while visiting places they’ve never been to before.

Peter said: “I have seen a few highs and a lot of lows over those years. I was privileged to be at both Grand Slam games in 1984 and 1990.

“Now I have retired, the opportunity to go to a World Cup with friends and family was too good to miss. I want Scotland to play to their full potential.”

Moyra added: “I saw Scotland for the first time abroad in 1995 in Paris. The French folk were so welcoming and so we are hoping for a similar reception this time.”

Jane Buchanan (below) has travelled over to France with her husband Andy from La Cala de Mijas in Spain, with both originally hailing from Dollar and Edinburgh respectively.

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“We have tickets for the South Africa game and I really hope we can get a good start to this World Cup,” Jane told the Sunday National.

“I love the passion of the Scottish team and always have a tear in my eye when they sing Flower of Scotland.”

Fiona Callan (below with son Tom) arrived in Nice on Thursday with her husband Graham and her son, with the couple having already been to several World Cups.

She said going out to the tournament was about more than just supporting Scotland.

The National:

“Rugby is in our family DNA. Graham’s dad played for Livingston Rugby Club, as did he and Tom,” said Fiona, from Livingston.

“We love supporting our home nation across multiple sports.

“Following rugby is about building connections and memories standing shoulder to shoulder with opposing fans. Let’s go Scotland!”

All of Scotland’s games will be shown live on either STV or ITV4 throughout the tournament, with Sunday’s fixture against South Africa kicking off at 4.45pm.