Six Nations 2019: consistency the key for Scotland the brave
Gregor Townsend’s side possess a frightening backline but have injuries up front
Huw Jones in action at the Aviva Stadium during the 2018 Six Nations. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
Last year’s tournament saw Scotland finish in the competition’s top half for the first time since 2006 and they head into this year’s championship with legitimate hopes of emulating their three victories in 2018. It has already been a fine year for Scottish rugby, with both Edinburgh and Glasgow qualifying for the knockout stages of the Champions Cup - the first time in history more than one Scottish side have made it into the quarter-finals. Both sides took some significant scalps along the way, and will be the bulk providers of Gregor Townsend’s Six Nations squad. Arguably his key player, however, is plying his trade overseas - the mercurial Finn Russell of Racing 92 will be responsible for setting the Scots’ tempo.
Townsend has a number of selection headaches and injury concerns, particularly in the backrow where John Barclay and Hamish Watson are missing, but he has an increasingly devastating backline at his disposal. This year’s fixture list sees them playing away to France and England, meaning if they want to retain the Calcutta Cup they will have to win at Twickenham for the first time since 1983. However, there is a feel-good factor within Scottish rugby, and if they can tap into it during the Six Nations then both Wales and Ireland could face difficult afternoons at Murrayfield.
Gregor Townsend has continued Vern Cotter’s good work, breathing life into Scotland and turning them from maverick underdogs into serious competitors. The Scots are currently ranked sixth in the world and have secired some statement wins since Townsend took over in the summer of 2017. Townsend’s Glasgow Warriors won the 2014-15 Pro12 playing a thrilling brand of rugby which he has transferred to the national side, and he has a wealth of attacking backline talent at his disposal. However, while Scotland are now a match for anyone on their day, Townsend’s chief task will be to get consistently clinical performances from his side. He must also try to plot a route past Ireland, both at Murrayfield in the Six Nations and then in the pool stages of the Rugby World Cup. That won’t be easy.
John Barclay will miss the start of the Six Nations, and potentially the whole tournament, as he continues his rehabilitation after he ruptured his Achilles playing for the Scarlets in last year’s Pro14 semi-finals. In his absence, Greig Laidlaw will continue to skipper the side from scrumhalf - with the 33-year-old still Townsend’s first-choice. There are certainly sharper number nines in world rugby than Laidlaw, but his experience, consistency and place-kicking ability all make him integral to Scotland’s hopes.
One to watch
On Christmas Day it was announced Huw Jones had committed to Glasgow Warriors for a further two years, turning down a potential move to England. However, the centre has been out of favour with his club side and was left out of Dave Rennie’s starting line-up for their final two Champions Cup matches. But despite failing to shine domestically, Jones has had no such issues in the Test arena, scoring 10 tries in 19 caps from outside centre, including a brace in last year’s win over England at Murrayfield. Jones has started every single Scotland Six Nations fixture since he made his international debut against Japan in June 2016 - the 25-year-old’s cunning and finishing ability from 13 should see him continue that record in this year’s tournament.
Grand Slam: 33-1
Triple Crown: 22-1
Scotland won seven of their 12 Tests in 2018, including victories over France and England at Murrayfield. They beat Argentina both home and away, in June and November, but were also edged out 26-20 by South Africa in the autumn.
Three victories were enough to see Scotland finish third in last year’s competition - their best performance since 2006.