Burns Night may be passed but if Scotland continue their soaring story arc in the Guinness Six Nations the country will have some new folklore soon enough.
Things have been building in the Highlands for some time now and confidence is high that 2019 could be the year the Scots end their 20-year wait for a Championship title.
Scotland have forged successes of recent Championships and now with rapidly-growing experience and the burgeoning form of Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh, this could well be their year.
There has been plenty of hype about the team’s prospects in recent seasons but now with more positive signs than ever, Scotland are on a mission to deliver.
THE NEXT LEVEL
This year’s Guinness Six Nations will see Scotland aim to take things to the next level.
Going back four years the Scots endured struggles in the Championship, finishing winless in 2015, but since then building block after building block has been put in place, first under head coach Vern Cotter and now under Gregor Townsend.
Two wins were achieved in 2016, followed by three in both 2017 and 2018 – Scotland’s best performances since Italy were added to the Championship in 2000.
France, England and Italy were all dispatched last year and things are looking good at home, with 10 of the last 12 Tests at BT Murrayfield seeing the Scots celebrate.
This year Scotland face Italy, Ireland and Wales in Edinburgh – the same trio they defeated in 2017 – with that extra step of a fourth and fifth victory keenly sought.
If Townsend’s men are to win away they must record a first win in Paris since 1999 or at Twickenham for some 36 years, a challenge no doubt gratefully accepted.
For further evidence of the building blocks growing higher you need only look at two cities – Glasgow and Edinburgh – to find two clubs increasingly going toe-to-toe with Europe’s elite.
For the first time ever both clubs are into the quarter-finals of the Champions Cup after impressive qualifying campaigns, Edinburgh hosting Munster and Glasgow taking on Saracens in March.
Both teams are also well-placed to qualify for the play-offs in the Guinness Pro14 and with these sides containing the lion’s share of Townsend’s squad the positives cannot be ignored.
Scotland’s challenge is looking increasingly strong on paper, with a settled-looking backline among the chief protagonists in the club game at present.
If Townsend’s backline was to read Laidlaw, Russell, Horne, Jones, Seymour, Maitland and Hogg then he would amount some 311 caps – match enough for anyone.
THE FIRST HURDLE
Scotland begin the Guinness Six Nations with two home matches – against Italy and Ireland – followed by a trip to Paris, Wales at BT Murrayfield and finally a fixture at Twickenham.
With Townsend’s men favourites to beat the Azzurri in Edinburgh it could be viewed as the perfect start to an ultra-competitive Championship and the opportunity to build some momentum.
No doubt though that Conor O’Shea’s Italy will have other ideas.
And the Azzurri have form for upsetting the Scots, pushing them all the way in a 29-27 defeat last year and winning at BT Murrayfield as recently as 2015.
Josh Furno and Giovanbattista Venditti were the scorers on that famous day, Italy winning 22-19 – Venditti also scoring a try in the 13-6 victory in 2012.
And while Scotland can point to the strong form of their clubs as an indicator so can Italy, with Benetton Treviso currently above Edinburgh in Conference B of the Guinness Pro14 amid their best season ever.
Confidence is growing in O’Shea’s men and with the likes of Sergio Parisse, Sebastian Negri and Michele Campagnaro all set to fire – Round One at BT Murrayfield could catch alight.