Scotland up against the odds at Six Nations
Scotland look to avenge their World Cup group stage exit with success in this year’s Six Nations. As Steven Brown writes, their hopes may be slim.
Scotland’s chances of clasping their hands on the Six Nations trophy are as slim as ever in this year’s Six Nations tournament. Confidence within the Scotland camp will be low after being dumped out of the Rugby World Cup after suffering defeat at the hands of Japan in the pool stage. Their apprehension will be backed up due to the fact that Greig Laidlaw, John Barclay and Tommy Seymour have announced their retirement from the international circuit, meaning that Townsend’s 38-man squad go into this tournament lacking not just experience, but quality.
Last year’s tournament saw The Scots side win just one game in a 33-20 victory over Italy. They would go on to lose to Ireland and Wales in what were tightly contested fixtures. While the 27-10 defeat to France was shocking, the late comeback against England to draw 37-37 and retain the Calcutta Cup was a high point and may have felt like a win. In a word, last year’s tournament was unpredictable. This year could be much the same.
With the first match of the tournament looming, there is still uncertainty around this Scotland side. The lack of experience within the squad could seriously harm Scotland’s chances of winning their first tournament since 1999 – so long ago, that Italy didn’t even compete, and the tournament was known as the Five Nations. Scotland’s highest finish since then has been third, a placing they have achieved four times, most recently in 2018.
If they are to have a successful tournament, they must play to their strengths, which means utilising their forwards and backs, hoping that their standout names can lead by example. Finn Russell must be given time and space to get the backs firing out and plunging through defensive holes. Since moving to French outfit Racing 92, Russell has been fantastic and has been able to up his game massively. That being said, we have still to see him produce the same moments of magic in a Scotland shirt.
This Scotland squad also has a vast array of talent on both wings, with the lightning quick Darcy Graham being the pick of the bunch. Graham has stood out for Edinburgh since returning from the World Cup, with his pace and ability to get past the opposition with ease being of critical importance in terms of scoring tries.
However, Scotland cannot simply rely on their back line to carry them through this tournament – the forwards also have a huge part to play. While the retirement of former captain John Barclay is a loss, Scotland have a deep pool of talented players to replace him with, such as Magnus Bradbury, Jamie Ritchie and Hamish Watson. Looking at the forwards as a whole, there are fewer injuries in the pack than in previous years, which is an uncommon stroke of luck for Scotland. Jonny Gray has made a return to the squad, with Simon Berghan, Fraser Brown and Zander Fagerson being selected following a good run at their respective clubs.
Looking ahead to Scotland’s fixtures, they face Ireland away at the Aviva Stadium on the 1st of February. Townsend’s side have not won in Ireland since 2010 and after a resounding defeat in the World Cup last September, Scotland will travel to Dublin with vengeance on the mind.
Despite winning the Calcutta Cup back in 2018 and having since retained it last year, Scotland are in for a very tough match when England visit Murrayfield on the 8th of February. Having finished as runners up in the World Cup, Eddie Jones’ side come into this year’s tournament as the heavy favourites.
It would be expected that Scotland would comfortably win over the tournament’s usual whipping boys, Italy, but the Scots cannot afford to be complacent. They are typically poor on the road and a bad result in Rome could spell trouble, with the business end of the tournament looming very soon afterwards.
Scotland’s last match against France saw them run out winners with a 17-14 scoreline – despite the victory being so narrow, Townsend will be hoping that his side can replicate the result when France arrive at Murrayfield on the 8th of March.
In their last match, Scotland will travel down to the Principality Stadium in Cardiff to face Wales. Recent results have suggested that Scotland have been close to closing the gap between Wales and themselves, but their poor away form will make this an incredibly tough match to win.
Scotland will know themselves that it will be as tough as ever to have a successful Six Nations tournament and enter the tournament as serious underdogs. Time will tell how Townsend’s squad fare against their five opponents but regardless, it’ll take a huge amount of work to get anywhere close to their first championship this millennium.