Has Scotland finally become a force again in the Six Nations?
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Highland News and Media sports editor Will Clark asks after two decades in the doldrums, is Scotland set to finally challenge for the Six Nations?
DRIVING back from Dingwall downhearted after Ross County missed another opportunity to move out of the relegation play-off zone, I switched on the wireless not expecting to listen to good news from Twickenham.
Domination, possession, territory – words you don’t usually hear being used to describe the Scottish rugby team for the last two decades.
But heading over the Kessock Bridge towards my bachelor pad in Crown, it sounded like there was something special happening.
Rushing into my living room and switching on the television, Scotland were winning by five points with 10 minutes to go.
I didn’t allow myself to get carried away; I’ve had my heart broken before watching Scotland playing at Twickenham. Two years ago, Scotland came back from 31–7 down to lead 38–31 in injury time, only for England to snatch a draw at the death.
The 2015 World Cup, well, let’s not talk about Craig Joubert, I’ll never get over that. Even with a minute to go with Scotland having possession deep in England’s own half, Finn Russell’s botched drop goal, handing possession back to England, I resigned myself that they would somehow run up the field, score a try and break my heart again. Damn you, God.
But Scotland were having none of it.
When Hamish Watson snatched the ball out of English hands and ran out of play in injury time, I spilled my tea on my beige sofa and danced around the living room like I’d won the Euromillions.
I was 15 days away from being born the last time Scotland won at Twickenham 38 years ago and it was another magic moment for Scottish sport in recent months, in what has been the darkest of times.
With the exception of Romania, it could be argued no other country has regressed since rugby became professional in the 1990s as much as Scotland.
After winning the final Five Nations in 1999 before Italy made it six in 2000, Scotland haven’t come close to becoming European champions again.
While Ireland and Wales blossomed over the last two decades in international competition, Scotland fell behind, often competing with Italy for the wooden spoon.
The 2019 Rugby World Cup was also a disaster for Scotland, well beaten by Ireland and Japan to crash out of the group stage. But for as much criticism as head coach Gregor Townsend got for that, he has achieved some notable results. Scotland have beaten Australia in the last two matches and won the last five against Argentina. In the last Six Nations, they beat a resurgent France, won in Wales for the first time since 2002 and now gave England, claimed to be the best in the world, an almighty 11-6 hammering.
Also, Scotland have genuinely world-class talent in their squad. Is there anyone else in world rugby you would play at fly half than Finn Russell, at full back than Stuart Hogg or flanker than Hamish Watson?
It is all about consistency now and after supposedly beating the best team in the world last weekend, Scotland have three home matches with Ireland, Italy and Wales with an away trip to Paris to take on a French team who look like they are back to their best again.
Most pundits thought Scotland had no chance of winning the Six Nations. But they might have been sent homeward to think again.