Next in our set of previews ahead of the 2016 Six Nations, we examine the prospects of Vern Cotter’s Scotland.
Scotland seem to be on the rise of late and they produced some great performances towards the end of last year. In their last five games they beat the Brave Blossoms twice in Japan before returning home and winning against Argentina, clobbering Georgia and just losing to Australia by one point, 23-22.
It wasn’t just their results though that have been impressive under Cotter, but their style of play. From being one the most boring teams to watch in international rugby, the Scots have developed a quick, exciting game-plan that has kept their spectators on the edge of their seats.
This season they’ll hope to sustain that fiery strategy while trying to get some more positive results with it being Cotter’s last Six Nations before he takes over the helm at Montpellier.
Last Year: It was a relatively strong year for Scottish rugby as they finished fourth after beating both European-mainland teams France and Italy.
They started off their Championship with a close 15-9 loss to the eventual champions England in the Calcutta Cup at Murrayfield. Their next game was also a positive result despite it ending in a loss with the Scots losing to Wales 27-23 in Cardiff.
Their first win of the tournament came in their third fixture when Scotland beat Italy 36-20 in Rome with Greig Laidlaw kicking an incredible 21 points.
Scotland then killed off France’s tournament with a win at Murrayfield, their first of the championship, which was significant given that had the permutations unfolded in France’s favour they could still have a crack at the Six Nations title. But Scotland had their own plans and three tries from Tim Visser, Duncan Taylor and Stuart Hogg buried the French, ending their hopes of Six Nations glory.
Scotland were looking to build on the form they worked so hard for on the final day, but to no avail as they lost 35-25 to Ireland in Dublin.
This Year: Cotter and his squad are fortunate to face an in-form Irish side in their first clash of the tournament at Murrayfield rather than in Dublin. Their next game is against France in Paris, far from ideal for the Scots as they have to beat France to make sure they match or improve on than their position last year, and playing them in Paris could prove problematic given that Guy Novès and his side appear to have turned a corner.
Wales are their third fixture and Scotland will hope to overturn the four-point difference from last year, when they played Wales in Cardiff, in their favour. Perhaps their toughest task will be playing a rampaging England side at Twickenham. It was a close game last year but Scotland will know England are a very different animal compared to the beginning of last season, when England were in the infancy stages of the unbeaten run.
Scotland finish off their Six Nations with a relatively easy game against Italy considering they are playing at home. They will need to already have had a few wins under their belt to consolidate their position from last year going into this game, but if they are over-confident Italy could be a potential banana skin.
Key Players: Fearless leader, team back-bone and most prolific scorer are all headlines on Greig Laidlaw’s Scotland CV. To put it quite simply the industrious scrum-half is the MVP of this Scottish side week-in and week-out and if he has a strong Six Nations, Scotland will probably too.
The attacking acumen of Stuart Hogg should never be underestimated either. His searing counter-attacking runs from the back field will send any opposition side into panic, while he still manages to link well with this team mates.
Players to watch: Jonny Gray has been on fire for Glasgow Warriors recently and there is no sign that the mobile lock might slow down in the Six Nations. He mixes sheer physicality with athleticism making him a dangerous weapon within Scotland’s pack.
South African-born-and-bred Cornell Du Preez could provide a bit of South African grunt to the Scottish pack, despite only being 25 he already feels like part of the furniture in Scottish rugby after signing for Edinburgh three years ago, he should definitely be a man to keep an eye on.
Zander Fagerson has a major role to play at tighthead prop following WP Nel’s injury, while in-form backs Alex Dunbar and Tommy Seymour have a chance to push their Lions claims with a successful campaign.
Prospects: Scotland look like a good side that are still growing, having settled on a core group of players and with the national side now due to reap the benefits of Glasgow and Edinburgh’s good domestic form. The departure of Cotter might give his players some extra incentive to perform but the Scots will most likely battle it out against the French for fourth spot on the overall table. Third place would mark a real step forward.
Saturday, February 4 v Ireland (Murrayfield)
Sunday, February 12 v France (Stade de France)
Saturday, February 25 v Wales (Murrayfield)
Saturday, March 11 v England (Twickenham)
Saturday, March 18 v Italy (Murrayfield)