After narrowly missing out on the World Cup semi-finals, Scotland rugby fans have plenty to be optimistic about, here’s why…
1.World Cup momentum
There’s no doubting that the last minute loss to Australia was heart-breaking, but on the other hand, it will provide Vern Cotter’s side with plenty of impetus heading into the Six Nations. Not only did Scotland compete with the Wallabies for 80 minutes, they had the better of them for large parts of the game which is more than England or Wales can attest to. This will give Scotland confidence heading into the Six Nations, and there’s no doubting they will want to atone for Craig Joubert’s mistake at the death.
2.Southern Hemisphere style
Given they have a New Zealander at the helm, and have included several players brought up in the Southern Hemisphere, it’s no great surprise that Scotland’s style of play most closely resembles that of New Zealand and Australia. As we saw at the World Cup, this more open and expansive style of play in currently yielding results and will hold Scotland in good stead for the Six Nations given that most of the other nations will be having to quickly play catch-up.
Scotland have always been dogged in the set-piece, but they now finally have a pack capable of not just holding their own, but actually challenging the best around. Ross Ford is back to his best, whilst Alasdair Dickinson is looking good and WP Nel has burst onto the scene and could well find himself on the Lions tour. In the second row, the combination of the Gray brothers looks like the cornerstone of success whilst in the back row there is great balance with the pilfering of John Hardie being complemented by the power of Dave Denton or Adam Ashe.
4.Infact, that backline
Whilst Scotland’s pack has always been solid, if unspectacular, their backline has often struggled to make much of an impact on games with tries being particular hard to come by. This is no longer the case with Greig Laidlaw one of the stars of the World Cup and his half back partner Finn Russell continuing to impress. In the midfield there is competition for places, whilst Stuart Hogg has always looked a talent at 15. Out on the wings too there is a real scrap for a starting spot with plenty of young talent coming through.
Glasgow Warriors maiden Pro12 title in 2015 clearly gave their Scotland players a huge boost heading into the World Cup, whilst Edinburgh’s Challenge Cup run clearly didn’t do their internationals any harm. Whilst Glasgow haven’t got off to the start they would have hoped for this season ,they are still in the mix whilst Edinburgh are looking on course for one of their best finishes ever. The experience gained by Scotland’s players from playing in finals will no doubt have a positive impact when it comes to the Six Nations.
Looking throughout the Scotland team, there are developing combinations in each of the key areas, with the front and second row looking solid, the half backs playing well together and a solid midfield combination. The back row and back three aren’t looking too bad either, although there are maybe still a couple of debateable positions still. The fact that most of the players within each of these competitions play together every week at club level is clearly going to be key to ensuring the longer term development of the wider squad.