Six Nations Preview: Scotland

In the week leading up to the start of the 2016 RBS Six Nations, Craig Wright will be looking at each of the nations bidding to be crowned champions on 19 March. Finally, he discusses Scotland’s chances in the upcoming tournament.

Rugby World Cup recap: Sections of the Scottish rugby public are still seething about the quarter-final defeat to Australia. Leading 34-32 after Mark Bennett’s 76th minute interception try, referee Craig Joubert wrongly awarded a penalty to the Wallabies. The, rest as they say, is history. The defeat stung, but when you get past that particular injustice, the World Cup was full of positives for Scotland. Vern Cotter found his best XV, John Hardie was a revelation, Finn Russell spearheaded a back division full of threat, and Greig Laidlaw played his best games in a Scotland jersey. All in all, Cotter should be pretty happy with what he’s got to work with.

State of the Nation: Not too much has changed in the four months since Scotland last took to the field. Jason O’Halloran and Richie Gray have been added to the coaching staff tasked with improving attack and the breakdown area respectively, whilst Alasdair Strokosch has retired from international rugby. Other than that, it’s largely the same squad that travelled down to England in October. John Barclay returns to the fold after some stellar performances for the Scarlets, whilst young props Zander Fagerson and Rory Sutherland will both be looking to make their debuts in the coming month. An exciting squad to choose from.

One to watch: John Hardie (below). When Vern Cotter parachuted the former Highlanders flanker into his pre-World Cup squad, many fans were up in arms about what they saw as the wrongful denial of a squad place to a Scottish player. Fast forward six months, and those detractors have melted away. Hardie showed at the World Cup that he deserves his place on merit, and will be itching to get his first taste of Six Nations action. Quick over the ground and great at the breakdown, he’s been in good form for Edinburgh and will want to transfer that form onto the international stage.

What they said:

Vern Cotter: “[Jason O’Halloran and Richie Gray] are very good coaches and specialists in their field. Jason brings a real challenge to players and detail with how to attack. He’s a very skilful operator. Richie has three years with the Springboks. If we can challenge players to learn new techniques to give us more opportunities then I think it’s good to have new voices in.”

Greig Laidlaw: “We’re not worrying about England first up. We’re focusing on our own game, and know we need to take our chances when we get them.”

Title chances: For the first time in a long time going into a Six Nations, there is a lot of optimism around Scotland. An exciting squad and a favourable fixture list means that they’re some pundits’ dark horses for the tournament. A lot will depend on the Calcutta Cup though – win that, and they’re well set to kick on for the rest of the tournament. Lose, however, and it could be a long championship for Cotter’s men. They’ll be looking to be in the mix when they visit Dublin on the final weekend.

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