Through a combination of courage, nerve and determination, the visitors managed to defy all expectations to beat France in their own backyard.
While the Calcutta Cup was rightly commanding the headlines in February, it would be criminal not to reflect on a rousing win in Paris for the first time since 1999 for Scotland.
Before the Six Nations tournament, many experts pointed towards England retaining the trophy and Scotland potentially finishing with one win. In a twisted turn of events, Wales were crowned Champions and Scotland bagged three wins out of five, albeit finishing fourth in the table. It has been, as many plaudits have declared, the best Six Nations ever.
Now, with the Six Nations over and the clock ticking down to the Lions Tour, let’s take a trip down memory lane in celebration of one of the craziest tournaments for Scottish rugby.
Despite a rousing victory over England to begin the tournament, this was quickly followed by back-to-back home losses, against Wales and Ireland, by less than a score. The delight of winning at Twickenham was thoroughly crushed and labelled by commentators as a fluke victory. We believed that Scotland had turned a corner, but instead, they were stuck in a revolving door failing to deliver on their supposed potential.
It was time to go back to the basics, and what better way to put that into practice against a young Italian side. Scotland rose back from the dead and ran eight tries past them, making that the highest points total racked up in a single fixture for the Scotland side. Despite the thumping victory, it was going to take something really special to eclipse Scotland’s historic win over England. Were the Celtic Gods going to shine on the Stade de France?
Short answer: yes. Through a combination of courage, nerve and determination, the visitors managed to defy all expectations and beat France in their own backyard. The Scots gave one hell of a performance, coming back from being behind on three separate occasions and producing a dramatic try in overtime by Duhan van der Merwe to seal the win. It seemed the years of misery and soul searching were finally over for Scotland.
However, we cannot ignore the obvious. Scotland let two home wins slip through their fingers against Wales and Ireland, which meant that a Scottish Grand Slam had been squandered. Nevertheless, head coach Gregor Townsend was immensely proud and will take the wins as evidence that Scotland can compete against the best teams in the world.
Although Stuart Hogg could not lead Scotland to a Grand Slam this year, the 28-year-old fullback continued to win plaudits for his captaincy. At an individual level, he has now surely secured a place in Warren Gatland’s touring party to South Africa this summer. His leadership was faultless throughout the tournament, far outshining his more feted rivals such as Owen Farrell.
What’s more, van der Merwe posted some hugely exciting attacking numbers. He beat 31 defenders this year, surpassing Brian O’Driscoll’s record for the most in a single edition of the Six Nations (30), which he set in 2000. He also became the first Scotland player to end a Six
Nations campaign as the outright top try scorer (excluding joint top-scorers). Surely that is enough to be a Lion?
Speaking of that, the Lions selection has become far more open, especially since England are a shadow of the team that beat New Zealand in the 2019 World Cup semi-final. Previous locked-in starters such as Maro Itoje and Tom Curry have struggled for form, and newcomers such as Rory Sutherland and Duhan van der Merwe have shone.
So, there is plenty for Gatland to weigh up, and with the tour now officially confirmed to go ahead in South Africa, he will have much to ponder, not least taking on the World Champions away from home. Will he take sanctuary from old-timers from Wales and England, or will he look to the rising stars from this remarkable Scottish side? Let’s hope it is the latter.
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