For the last few years, Scotland have stood on the precipice of becoming a major international force.
And with a host of key players now entering their prime, the upcoming Autumn Nations Series will prove the perfect testing ground for Scotland to realise their Test match ambitions.
So far 2021 has been an up and down year for head coach Gregor Townsend’s men.
On the positive side of the ledger are wins at Twickenham against England, a first since 1983, and away to France in Paris for the first time since 1999.
However narrow losses to Wales and Ireland hindered their Championship aspirations as BT Murrayfield was not the fortress of previous years.
With the 2022 Championship hurtling toward them, the Autumn Nations Series provides the perfect chance for them to test themselves against a variety of international opponents.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
The 2021 Guinness Six Nations campaign was a mixed bag for Scotland.
While they pulled off stellar away wins against England and France, and a dominant 52-10 win over Italy, they fell to both Wales and Ireland in agonising fashion.
In their two defeats to Wales and Ireland, Townsend’s side lost by a combined four points – losing 25-24 and 27-24 respectively.
Had those two results gone slightly differently, then Scotland would have been walking away from last season’s Championship with a Grand Slam title, their first since 1990.
Away from home, Scotland also had a host of stars take the stage for the British & Irish Lions Tour of South Africa.
Zander Fagerson, Chris Harris, Stuart Hogg, Duhan van der Merwe, Ali Price, Finn Russell, Rory Sutherland and Hamish Watson all starred for Warren Gatland’s side, but were ultimately unable to secure a series win, losing 2-1 to the Springboks in what was a hard-fought Tour.
Townsend was also involved in the backroom set-up, making his Lions coaching debut as one of Gatland’s assistants.
And with the regular first team starters away, Scotland had Tests planned over the summer against Romania and Georgia.
However, like all things over the past 18 months, COVID-19 put an end to that, with both Tests being cancelled as a result.
CAPTAIN AND COACH
Stuart Hogg and Gregor Townsend are at the helm when it comes to forming the Scotland captain-coaching axis.
With 85 caps to his name, full-back Hogg has been an ever-present member of the Scotland side since his debut against Wales during the 2012 Championship.
The 29-year-old has also appeared at both the 2015 and 2019 World Cups, and was instrumental in helping Scotland to memorable away wins last season against both England and France.
Having taken over from Vern Cotter in 2017, Townsend’s time in charge of Scotland has seen them improve year on year.
The former Glasgow Warriors coach has brought an attacking mindset into Scotland’s game, with them being able to outscore any opponent on their day.
ONES TO WATCH
It’s fair to say that Scotland have gone from strength to strength in terms of their squad depth.
On paper, they boast one of the finest backlines in the northern hemisphere.
And with the likes of British & Irish Lions stars Ali Price, Duhan van der Merwe, Chris Harris and Stuart Hogg involved, it’s easy to see why.
However, there has to be a conductor who brings the band together.
And whenever Scotland do take the field, mercurial fly-half Finn Russell is almost always the pick of the bunch to watch.
Russell is unpredictable in the best way possible, dazzling defenders with an abundance of flair and panache. As gifted a passer as there is, Russell’s short kicking game has proved increasingly valuable in recent years in picking apart defences.
The 28-year-old is what makes the wheels turn, and with him on the field, Scotland are always in with a chance of winning.
In the forwards, flanker Hamish Watson is the pick of the bunch.
Last season was an incredible one for the 29-year-old flanker, who was named the 2021 Guinness Six Nations Player of the Championship before making his Lions debut in the first Test against the Springboks.
The flanker is currently entering what should be the peak of his career, and will play a huge part in helping Scotland establish themselves consistently as a Test force.
Despite his relatively small stature for an international back-rower, Watson is a force of nature with ball in hand, while his work at the breakdown was crucial in the historic wins at Twickenham and in Paris earlier this year.
Scotland have four games coming up in this year’s Autumn Nations Series, with the action starting on October 30 against Tonga.
From there, they face off against Australia on November 7.
It’s been four years since the two played each other, with the last two results seeing Scotland run out 24-19 winners out in Australia before dismantling the Wallabies 53-25 months later at home.
To add spice to the encounter, Australia are coached by Dave Rennie, Townsend’s successor in Glasgow before he moved Down Under.
Townsend and co then play the world champion Springboks on November 13.
The last time Scotland were able to overturn South Africa was in 2010, when they defeated the Springboks 21-17 at BT Murrayfield.
Since then however, they have lost all six encounters, with the last one coming during the 2018 Autumn Internationals, where they lost 26-20.
And to round things off, Scotland play Japan on November 20 in a rematch of their Pool A 2019 Rugby World Cup clash that saw the latter pull off an impressive 28-21 win in front of their home fans.
All four fixtures pose their own challenges, and will go a long way in helping Scotland test themselves as they build towards the 2022 Guinness Six Nations.
Scotland v Tonga, Edinburgh, October 30, kick-off: 2.30pm
Scotland v Australia, Edinburgh, November 7, kick-off: 2.15pm
Scotland v South Africa, Edinburgh, November 13, kick-off: 1pm
Scotland v Japan, Edinburgh, November 20, kick-off: 1pm
Tickets are still available for this year’s Autumn Nations Series games against Tonga, Australia, South Africa and Japan.
— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) September 15, 2021