Six Nations: The lowdown on Scotland

It’s been a case of close but no cigar for Vern Cotter but Scotland are on the up

Coach: Vern Cotter

Joe Schmidt's old friend and fellow Kiwi, Vern Cotter's reign as Scotland's head coach has been a case of so close, yet so far since he arrived from Clermont Auverge in 2014. He has overseen a string of painfully tight defeats - the most obvious being the last minute defeat to Australia in the World Cup quarter-finals. But while Scotland are yet to crack one of the big boys during his tenure there is no doubting the huge strides made since he took over. Cotter has given the likes of Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg a creative license they have thrived under, and should he find himself on the Lions coaching staff few would argue if he recruited a number of his own players.


Scotland's improvement between picking up the Wooden Spoon in the 2015 Six Nations and then coming moments from the World Cup semi-final was dramatic. The back line, which for a long time had been an Achilles heel, is rejuvenated under Cotter. The running talents of Russell are obvious and so too Hogg, while Mark Bennett has been a revelation in midfield. The Gray brothers, Richie and Jonny, are also proving a formidable secondrow partnership.



Scotland's last Six Nations campaign saw them consistently edged out by small margins and the main criticism levelled at Cotter's side was they were too easily bullied across the park. A lack of physicality cost them against all five sides, including Italy. Cotter finds himself needing to strike a balance between a side who can compete physically and one which can stick to his ball-playing philosophy. Apart from Argentina and Italy, Scotland have yet to beat a top-tier side under Cotter, a monkey they sorely need lifting from their backs.

Key man: Greg Laidlaw

Scotland certainly have more exciting players at present but the calming influence of skipper Greg Laidlaw will be vital in steering the nation’s young firebrands to a good finish in this year’s tournament. His presence at nine will be pivotal as Finn Russell grows into the number 10 jersey, as will his ability to release pressure with the boot. He also remains Scotland’s best place kicker, and will need to be at his best if his side are to threaten.

Last year: Wooden Spoon

As noted, it was a case of so near yet so far for Scotland in 2015. In Cotter's first Six Nations campaign his side opened with a frustrating 15-8 loss away to a very beatable France side. The margins were incredibly tight in their next game, a second half try from Jonathan Davies a killer blow as they were beaten 23-26 by Wales at Murrayfield. And then, the real stomach churner - Italy were awarded a 79th minute penalty try and Scotland lost 19-22 in Edinburgh. A more comprehensive 22-13 loss to England followed before Ireland handed out a 40-10 thrashing in the final game as they secured the championship.

One to watch: John Hardie

The Scottish Rugby Union had been tracking New Zealander John Hardie for two years when he agreed to leave the Highlanders, after seven seasons and over 50 appearances in the Super 15, and avail of his Scottish ancestry: his late grandmother, Christine, who hailed from Fife. He hadn't played a game of club rugby when Scotland coach Vern Cotter gave him his debut in a World Cup warm-up match against Italy in Turin last August. Cotter's decision to take a chance on the New Zealander was not universally acclaimed at the time, but Hardie's performances quickly dispelled any misgivings about the "kilted Kiwi". The openside flanker has excelled at test level both in terms of traditional duties but also in giving his team a ball-playing presence and good running lines when released in the wider channels.

Patrick Madden

Patrick Madden

Patrick Madden is a former sports journalist with The Irish Times