Jordan Carlisle analyses Scotland’s chances at this year’s six nations
For decades, Scotland rugby fans have been left disappointed at the conclusion of the Six Nations championship. However, in what appears to be a new era for the national team, Scotland are being talked about as serious contenders for the biggest prize in the northern hemisphere.
Between 2014 and 2017, Vern Cotter oversaw improvements as head coach, before he bowed out with promising results in last year’s tournament.
Since his departure and the appointment of Gregor Townsend, there appears to be a yet more dynamism surrounding the national team set-up.
Extremely successful during his tenure at Glasgow Warriors, Townsend has added focus and renewed ambition to a group of now relatively experienced international players.
A slip-up against Fiji was the only negative from last year’s successful trip to the southern hemisphere, which included a comfortable win over Italy and a landmark victory over Australia in their own backyard.
The autumn internationals brought further positives. After stumbling over the line against Samoa, the Scots came close to a first win against the All Blacks, before running rampant to score eight tries against a shell-shocked Wallabies side in Edinburgh.
It was the ruthlessness apparent in the preparation for and execution of that performance that will excite fans the most.
On the eve of the game, it was decided that the main surface at Peffermill, where the Australian team were based, would be kept good for a University match scheduled for the next day. Consequently, the Aussies were left to run through set-pieces on an astroturf surface and were only offered a tiny strip of the dead-ball area for contact drills.
That sort of treatment perhaps signalled Scotland’s intent not to pander to the wishes of their visitors and the same attitude translated onto the Murrayfield turf.
Not an inch was given and the host’s talented back-line including Glasgow Warriors’ Finn Russell, Peter Horne and the immensely impressive Huw Jones, ran riot.
In fact, unlike the other five teams, they will face in this year’s Six Nations, almost the entire back division play, or have played, for the same club.
The added cohesion that this brings is difficult to understate, and with full-back Stuart Hogg being awarded Man of the Series for consecutive years, there is no doubt this back division will cause serious headaches for opposition defences.
However, after the recent squad announcement, it is clear that injuries have depleted the forward pack.
With regulars like Zander Fagerson, Ross Ford, WP Nel and Allan Dell all missing through injury, and prop Simon Berghan suspended for the first match, the front row, in particular, has been decimated.
Further changes such as the re-inclusion of Worcester Warriors back row David Denton, are enforced to an extent but have the air of a backward step.
To succeed, the new makeshift pack will need to find a way to provide a platform for quick, clean ball if mavericks like Russell are to add the necessary spark, but with only two home games from the five fixtures, this will be an uphill task.
While we can reasonably expect improved results and a lot of entertainment from a back-line firing on all cylinders, perhaps a championship win will remain out of reach for the time being.
To even speak of Townsend’s men mounting a credible challenge constitutes real progress, as they now look towards the 2018 Six Nations not as whipping boys, but as a genuine force.
Wales (A) 3rd February
France (H) 11th February
England (H) 24th February
Ireland (A) 10th March
Italy (A) 17th March