Six Nations: Scotland to seek the Holy Grail of consistency

Trouble with key players has made the job of coach Gregor Townsend much more difficult

Last Year

Fourth in last year’s Six Nations, Scotland have been a promising team for a few seasons without punching through in the way they had hoped.

The team began the 2022 championship brightly by beating England in the first match in Edinburgh, then lost to Wales by three points in the second round. Beaten by Grand Slam champions France in round three, they then took Italy before Ireland beat them 26-5 in the last match. That brings Scotland to what might be coach Gregor Townsend’s 2023 mantra, ‘consistency’.

A summer tour defeat to Argentina with Emiliano Bofelli scoring a try and conversion in minutes 81 and 82 for Argentina to clinch the series in the final match brought that home again.

The November Series showed how Scotland can pull out wins but also hand back momentum. Losing 15-16 to Australia in their first match, they beat Fiji, lost to New Zealand but rounded off the series with a 52-29 win over Argentina as Darcy Graham grabbed a hat trick in the eight-try romp. What to expect is more of the same.


Results – (6N) v England (h) W 20-17; v Wales (a) L 20-17; v France 9h) L 17-36; v Italy (a) W 22-33; v Ireland (a) L 26-5. Summer Tour - v Argentina (a) L 26-28; v Argentina (a)W 6-29; v Argentina (a) L 34-31. November Series – v Australia (h) L 15-16; v Fiji (h) W 28-12; v New Zealand (h) L 23-31; v Argentina W 52-29.


Attack and assistant coach AB Zondagh departed out of the blue this month with New Zealander Brad Mooar, a former All Blacks assistant and Scarlets head coach, joining as attack coach on a short-term basis. Glasgow’s assistant Pete Horne has also joined for first two weeks of the championship, so some disruption there.

Townsend’s 40-man squad contains four uncapped players in Munster’s Irish-born outhalf Ben Healy and Bath wing Ruaridh McConnochie, who played twice for England but qualifies under the new IRB rule. Leicester lock Cameron Henderson and Glasgow centre Stafford McDowell are the others.

A love-hate ongoing soap opera with Finn Russell is part of the narrative. Not for the first time, all has not been smooth in camp. Russell was out of the Scotland training squad for the autumn series until Adam Hastings was injured, while fullback Stuart Hogg (on course for 100 caps) was stripped of the captaincy leaving backrow Jamie Ritchie as skipper. Watch the space.

Forwards: Ewan Ashman (hooker, Sale); Josh Bayliss (backrow, Bath); Simon Berghan (prop, Glasgow); Jamie Bhatti (prop, Glasgow); Fraser Brown (hooker, Glasgow); Dave Cherry (hooker, Edinburgh); Andy Christie (no. 8, Saracens); Luke Crosbie (flanker, Edinburgh); Jack Dempsey (backrow, Glasgow); Matt Fagerson (no. 8, Glasgow); Zander Fagerson (prop, Glasgow); Grant Gilchrist (lock, Edinburgh); Jonny Gray (lock, Exeter); Richie Gray (lock, Glasgow); Cameron Henderson (lock, Leicester); WP Nel (prop, Edinburgh); Pierre Schoeman (prop, Edinburgh); Javan Sebastian (prop, Scarlets); Sam Skinner (backrow/lock Edinburgh); Rory Sutherland (prop, Ulster); George Turner (hooker, Glasgow); Hamish Watson (flanker, Edinburgh)

Backs: Chris Harris (centre, Gloucester); Ben Healy (outhalf, Munster); Stuart Hogg (fullback, Exeter); George Horne (scrumhalf, Glasgow); Huw Jones (centre, Glasgow); Blair Kinghorn (outhalf, Edinburgh); Sean Maitland (wing, Saracens); Ruaridh McConnochie (winger, Bath); Stafford McDowell (centre, Glasgow); Ali Price (scrumhalf, Glasgow); Cameron Redpath (centre, Bath); Finn Russell (outhalf, Racing 92); Ollie Smith (fullback, Glasgow); Kyle Steyn (wing/centre, Glasgow); Sione Tuipulotu (centre, Glasgow); Duhan van der Merwe (winger, Edinburgh); Ben White (scrumhalf, London Irish)


Townsend, a one-time highly skilled outhalf has had trouble with his two most skilful players, Russell and Hogg and has embraced the arrival of Healy from Munster. Not afraid to shake things up if he is not getting the performance. But he has struggled to make Scotland a consistently strong force.

Key Player

Russell is always the key player and always Scotland’s key playmaker. He is susceptible to throwing an odd pass that doesn’t stick but has always been mercurial and certain to do the unexpected. With a range of passing, timing, playmaking, he makes Scotland tick when switched on.


Scotland have not done enough at a high level to suggest they have kicked the habit of variable form. They have not won a Six Nations this century and last year showed they can beat the best but also be an easy touch. First up England and a win there could provide a run.

Schedule: v England (a) February 4, 16.45; v Wales (h) February 11 16.45; v France (a) February 26, 15.00; v Ireland (h) March 12, 15.00; v Italy (h) March 18, 12.30.

Odds: Win Six Nations 20-1; win Grand Slam 50-1

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times