End of Year Review: Scotland

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2021 was a year of immense growth for Scotland, with historic wins, an excellent finish in the Guinness Six Nations and a successful Autumn Nations Series for Gregor Townsend’s side.

2021 was a year of immense growth for Scotland, with historic wins, an excellent finish in the Guinness Six Nations and a successful Autumn Nations Series for Gregor Townsend’s side.

Those historic wins, on the road against England and France respectively, showed just how much Scotland have improved in the past year.

It was the first time since 1983 that Scotland had beaten England at Twickenham as they began their campaign with an 11-6 win, while the round five victory over France was their first in Paris since 1999.

Their two defeats in the Guinness Six Nations came when down to 14 men against eventual champions Wales, losing 25-24 after a stunning comeback from the visitors in Edinburgh, and a 27-24 defeat to Ireland.

Had Scotland won either of those games, they may well have lifted the Championship title.

Following that successful campaign, their summer Tests were disappointingly cancelled due to Covid-19, meaning there was a gap of eight months before their Autumn Nations Series clash with Tonga.

That did not phase the Scots though as they eased to a 60-14 win back in front of fans, before going on to defeat Australia the following week.

They lost at the hands of world champions South Africa before finishing with a 29-20 win against Japan – a game in which Stuart Hogg became Scotland’s all-time leading try scorer.

Guinness Six Nations

Scotland finished fourth in the 2021 Guinness Six Nations, despite winning three games out of five, which on the surface is not where they would’ve wanted to finish.

But that fourth-placed finish was just five points behind champions Wales, tied with Ireland and a point behind second-placed France.

The three victories against England, France and Italy were seriously impressive, with both defensive resilience instigated by Steve Tandy and an attacking game that can tear even the very best teams apart.

The defeats were unfortunate, particularly the Wales loss, with Zander Fagerson’s red card costing the Scots dearly before a moment of sheer class from Louis Rees-Zammit which the Scots cannot be blamed for.

Overall, it was a clear step in the right direction, perhaps with a slight twinge of disappointment and a feeling of one that got away with the defeats being so tight and the title so close in terms of points.

Autumn Nations Series

A lack of a summer tour was something that could have derailed the Scotland progress from the Guinness Six Nations, but if anything, it freed them and allowed them to play with freedom against Tonga in the opening game of the Autumn Nations Series.

That explosive 60-14 win over the ‘Ikale Tahi saw Kyle Steyn cross the whitewash four times, becoming the first Scot to do so since 1995 when Gavin Hastings crossed for four against the Ivory Coast.

Under-20 Six Nations Championship dates announced

The victory against Australia was one that showed exactly where Scotland are, capable of beating the very best opposition from all around the world, although the defeat to South Africa a week later showed they are still far from the finished product.

Makazole Mapimpi’s brace inspired South Africa to a 30-15 win which saw Scotland struggle to contain the ruthless Springboks.

A week later though, Scotland were back to winning ways against the Brave Blossom and captain Hogg went in to score his 25th Scottish try, making him the all-time top Scottish try scorer.

That victory was far from perfect in terms of the performance, but it was a bounce back win against a Japan side who essentially knocked them out of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, while the Hogg try was a historic moment and in itself the icing on the cake for a very promising year for Scotland.

Standout stars

Faces both new and old have put their hand up for Scotland throughout 2021.

Duhan van der Merwe picked up where he left off the year before, with the South African-born winger finishing as the Championship’s top try-scorer with five.

He now has nine tries in 13 Tests for Scotland and having also shown his class for The British & Irish Lions in the summer, the 26-year-old has become a real weapon for Townsend’s side.

Elsewhere, Kyle Steyn marked his return in Scotland colours with four tries against Tonga in the Autumn Nations Series while Rufus McLean’s double on debut also hinted at his talent.

Scotland’s most influential player over the year has to be Hamish Watson, who was named Guinness Six Nations Player of the Championship on the back of his astonishing performances.

Watson was an all-action performer in the Scottish back-row, missing just 14 minutes over the course of five matches. He scored one try and provided one try assist, carried 67 times for 321 metres, and successfully made every single tackle of his 55 in defence.

Hogg also deserves recognition for the way he has led Scotland from the front, breaking his country’s try-scoring record and being a consistent performer from full-back.

Looking ahead

All in all, 2021 has continued the upward trend for Scotland, who are now in a position to challenge any team in the world and seriously push for the Guinness Six Nations title.

The 2022 Championship is set to be the most fiercely contested in years, with England, France and Ireland all looking like they will be hard to beat while Wales are the holders for a reason.

Superb Scotland victorious against Japan

But Scotland are more than capable of contending. That will be their first target, to ensure they succeed in the Guinness Six Nations, with the main goal being to finally turn their potential into silverware success.

In fact, an opening round meeting with England in Edinburgh will provide an ideal litmus test for their chances in next year’s Championship. The momentum from a victory could be pivotal.

But even if they fall short of being crowned champions, Townsend will want his side to at least compete for the title before casting an eye towards their three-Test series in Argentina in July.

Beyond that, the Rugby World Cup is also just around the corner. If Scotland can continue to build towards that with their talented squad, then the future looks very bright indeed.