Chris Paterson is confident that Scotland can improve on last year’s Guinness Six Nations showing in 2021 and believes Cameron Redpath could provide the X-factor.
A Scotland centurion, with over 50 of those caps coming in the Championship, Paterson knows exactly what it takes to compete on the highest stage and is convinced the current crop will build on a three-win 2020 campaign that saw them finish fourth in the table.
Gregor Townsend’s side put in a number of stellar performances throughout last year’s Guinness Six Nations, including a terrific 28-17 win over France at BT Murrayfield, conceding a Championship-low 59 points in the process.
And Paterson, who is Scotland’s all-time leading points scorer with 809, claims the sky is the limit for the 2021 group and has earmarked uncapped, 21-year-old centre Redpath as a key to success.
“He’s a great addition to the national squad for Scotland, I think Scotland have been at their most successful when they have had that type of player in and around the 12 jersey,” said Paterson, who played alongside Redpath’s father, Bryan, for Scotland at the start of the century.
“We need to be able to shift the target, to keep teams guessing, we need that ability to have ball players and strike-runners and a good mix.
“You can surprise defences, you can do something the defence doesn’t expect and catch them out a little. With the nature of the players you have in Scotland, you’ve got that.
“That set-piece gives you stability and security in order to play off. Scotland have got that, with the experience they have, the dynamism they have, Jamie Ritchie and Hamish Watson, Richie Gray is back and has been playing really well in the last few weeks for Glasgow – he brings experience and dynamism.
“There are a couple of injuries at hooker, which to lose Fraser Brown and Stuart McInally, two of the best players in the Championship, is a blow.
“But George Turner’s dynamic and explosive so he can fit that bill as well. So the stuff up front will be crucial, I just don’t know if we’ll be able to get that explosive, dynamic game.”
Scotland get their 2021 Championship underway on Saturday with a trip to Twickenham to face Eddie Jones’ England side, with the Red Rose looking to finish top of the standings for a second successive year.
As well as claiming Guinness Six Nations glory, there was also an Autumn Nations Cup triumph added to their trophy collection last year, with just one defeat in their nine Test matches throughout 2020.
Much of that success was built on a dominant kicking game – as England put boot to ball more than any team in the competition in the last campaign – before relying on their fantastic defensive unit to regain possession and claim priceless territory.
But with key players such as Joe Launchbury, Sam Underhill and Joe Marler all missing out this time around, Paterson believes England will have to adapt their game accordingly.
“When you play against England, they want you to risk stuff. They want kick well, chase well, strangle you, force you into making an error so it’s difficult for the Scotland team to know when to risk something,” the former international fly-half said.
“I think Underhill will be a miss for England’s defence. I know England’s back row is brilliant, they have so many options but I do think Underhill is phenomenal in the example he sets. There’s no lack of quality coming in but I do think he’ll be a miss.
“Defensively, I think he’s quite unique, although Ben Earl’s been excellent if he comes in, [Tom] Curry is brilliant as well. So there’s no lack of quality but I think he’s a miss because I rate him so highly.”
When it comes to the battle for Championship glory, it would be no surprise to see Fabien Galthie’s France side battling for supremacy once again this year, having narrowly missed out on being victorious back in October.
It was points difference that prevented France from being crowned champions last year, with defeat to Scotland in Round 4 ultimately proving costly, as their impressive 35-27 Round 5 victory over Ireland proved not quite enough to leapfrog England atop the table.
The 2010 Grand Slam winners produced some scintillating rugby during the 2020 Championship, as they blew away England on the opening weekend in Paris, before another rollercoaster ride in that win over Ireland.
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With a number of young stars, such as Antoine Dupont, who can unlock a defence in an instant, France will always pose a danger to any side they face but Paterson isn’t sure this will be the moment they claim their first Guinness Six Nations title for 11 years.
“France, I think generally more people are looking at them peaking in 2023. And looking at their squad, it still looks as if they are searching for that perfect balance in 2023,” the 42-year-old said.
“I think they will be brilliant come 2023, they are brilliant already but they’ll be the finished package then because they will have used this time to find out what the finished package is.
“I think England are probably more consistent and know more what they are about than France, but France can do it all.”