IT MUST BE quite frustrating to be a Scottish rugby fan. In the 11 years since Gary Armstrong got his hands on the Championship Trophy, the Scots have seen good players come and good players go with only a handful of Calcutta Cups as a reward for their efforts.
So, is this the year that Andy Robinson’s men finally bring their drought to an end, or do Scotland face another scrap to avoid the wooden spoon?
How did they do in 2010? Fifth place, also known as second last, with just a single win and a draw.
And against Ireland? Typically, from an Irish perspective, that single win came against Declan Kidney’s side in the last game of the 2010 championship. Ireland went into the game relying on favourable results elsewhere to give them a sneaky outside shot at the Championship, but 17 points from the boot of Dan Parks spoiled any potential party, giving the visitors a 23-20 victory.
This time around? Scotland come in to the tournament on the back of a decent run of form with wins in five of their last six games, including a famous 21-17 win over South Africa in Murrayfield in the autumn. On that occasion, all of the points came from the boot of Dan Parks, and it is clear that much of Scotland’s fortune over the next seven weeks will depend on how Andy Robinson decides to deploy his Aussie-born out-half.
If the Scots are to have any chance against the tournament’s big boys, they will need to tone down their reliance on Parks and penalties and start heading for the try line. Since the turn of the decade, the Scots have finished as the lowest try scorers on no fewer than eight separate occasions, crossing the white line only 64 times.
Compare that with England’s slightly more impressive total of 171 over the same period and you begin to see where the problem lies.
One of Scotland’s key strengths lies in the back-row triumverate of John Barclay, Johnnie Beattie and Kelly Brown, “the Killer B’s”. Though injury to Beattie prevents the trio from lining out as a unit against France on Saturday evening, once reunited, their speed and mobility at the breakdown will provide plenty of quick ball and opportunity for Scotland’s backs.
Key Man? Newly-appointed captain Alistair Kellock has been one of the top Scottish performers in this season’s Heineken Cup so far. Expect his on-pitch performances to reflect his position of leadership.
One to Watch? Northampton’s Joe Ansbro may only have two international caps to his name thus far but the exciting centre ‘s partnership with Nick De Luca will be key if Scotland are to put any significant amount of points on the board. Another to keep an eye for is 22-year-old out-half Ruaridh Jackson who may occasionally be called on to provide a creative spark in the half-back line.
The bookies say? 14/1
TheScore says? They won’t win the tournament, but if they can keep their players fit, they’ll be tough to beat. The dark horse.
Pick of the archives?
We could really have gone for any of the Scots’ victories over the Auld Enemy in recent years. This 15-9 win in the 2008 kick-fest at Murrayfield is as good as any. They really like beating England, don’t they?
Backs (16) – Joe Ansbro (Northampton Saints), Mike Blair (Edinburgh), Jack Cuthbert (Bath), Simon Danielli (Ulster), Nick De Luca (Edinburgh), Max Evans (Glasgow Warriors), Alex Grove (Worcester Warriors), Ruaridh Jackson (Glasgow Warriors), Greig Laidlaw (Edinburgh), Rory Lamont (Toulon), Sean Lamont (Scarlets), Rory Lawson (Gloucester), Dan Parks (Cardiff Blues), Chris Paterson (Edinburgh), Hugo Southwell (Stade Francais), Nikki Walker (Ospreys).
Forwards (18) – John Barclay (Glasgow Warriors), Johnnie Beattie (Glasgow Warriors), Kelly Brown (Saracens), Geoff Cross (Edinburgh), Ross Ford (Edinburgh), Richie Gray (Glasgow Warriors), Dougie Hall (Glasgow Warriors), Robert Harley (Glasgow Warriors), Nathan Hines (Leinster), Allan Jacobsen (Edinburgh), Alastair Kellock (Glasgow Warriors), Scott Lawson (Gloucester), Moray Low (Glasgow Warriors), Scott MacLeod (Edinburgh), Euan Murray (Newcastle Falcons), Ross Rennie (Edinburgh), Richie Vernon (Glasgow Warriors), Jon Welsh (Glasgow Warriors).
Saturday 5 February (17:00) France vs Scotland
Saturday 12 February (17:00) Scotland vs Wales
Sunday 27 February (15:00) Scotland vs Ireland
Sunday 13 March (15:00) England vs Scotland
Saturday 19 March (14:30) Scotland vs Italy