Gregor Townsend is confident Scotland are ready to mount a serious Guinness Six Nations title bid next year after an encouraging 2020 campaign.
Scotland made a slow start to this year’s Championship, which started with a narrow defeat in Ireland before England regained the Calcutta Cup in torrid weather conditions at BT Murrayfield.
But they turned their prospects round with an impressive victory away to Italy in Round 3 before they ended France’s Grand Slam hopes with a thrilling performance in Edinburgh.
The 2020 Championship was postponed before Round 5, so Scotland still have a trip to Wales on the horizon, but their chances of the title are remote this year.
However, Townsend believes they are ready to sustain a serious challenge in 2021 and compete to win the Championship for the first time since 1999.
“I have seen the playing group we have and how they have got better and risen to the challenge,” he said.
“This year, we saw how close we came to winning all four of our games. We only won two, but we had chances in the Ireland game and then the England game when it was 3-3 with about 15 minutes to go we believe there was a penalty to us that would have taken us to 6-3.
“This team can create those opportunities but it is important that we do better and we take them. Of course I believe we can win the Six Nations.”
Big game. Big result.
— Guinness Six Nations (@SixNationsRugby) March 9, 2020
Townsend also said fly-half Finn Russell will be back in contention when rugby resumes.
Russell left the Scotland camp on the eve of the Championship and played no part in the first four rounds but Townsend has stayed in touch with the talented No.10 and is keen to pick him again.
“I’m in more regular contact with the midfielders, the 10s and the centres, and Finn’s very much part of that group,” he said.
“We’ve had a few conversations over this period. We’re all waiting to see what happens when rugby does resume, but I’m sure he’ll be very much in our thoughts and let’s hope he’s keen to play.”
Townsend could also hand a first call-up to Edinburgh winger Duhan van der Merwe, who qualifies on residency rules this year.
“I have spoken with Duhan at various points this season and in the last couple of weeks,” he added.
“He would have been in the mix for summer tour but we will keep watching how he plays for Edinburgh.
“He is an excellent player, and he has shown this season a different level of play as well. His work off the ball has been excellent and his defence has been up there as well.
“He is quick, he’s strong, he makes a lot of line breaks and tackle breaks and he is a young player who will get better the more he plays.”