Story of the 2018 NatWest 6 Nations: Scotland

Scotland achieved their highest NatWest 6 Nations finish since 2006 as three wins from their five matches lifted them up to third place.

Scotland achieved their highest NatWest 6 Nations finish since 2006 as three wins from their five matches lifted them up to third place.

Their Championship will be most remembered for their first victory over England in a decade and an excellent comeback against France, with the likes of Stuart Hogg, Huw Jones and captain John Barclay all playing starring roles.

Here is the story of the Scots’ encouraging campaign.

The 2018 NatWest 6 Nations would be a first Championship in charge for Scotland’s new head coach Gregor Townsend, who had replaced Vern Cotter during the previous summer.

The former Scotland fly-half had made an encouraging start to his time in charge, with a 24-19 win over Australia in Sydney being followed by a successful autumn.

It was during this that the Scots came close to defeating New Zealand for the first time in their history, eventually losing 22-17, before Australia were brushed aside 53-24 at BT Murrayfield.

Their form led to high hopes of a first title since 1999 and Barclay felt their style of play would be a threat to anyone.

“The way we are playing is a little bit different and we have all bought into that. It is organised chaos and it suits us,” he said at the NatWest 6 Nations launch.

Wales 34-7 Scotland

It wasn’t the start that Townsend and Scotland would have hoped for as tries by Gareth Davies and Leigh Halfpenny put Wales 14-0 ahead after just 12 minutes at the Principality Stadium.

The opening match in the 2018 NatWest 6 Nations was controlled by the Welsh, with the likes of Steff Evans, Rhys Patchell and Aaron Shingler filling in superbly for some high-profile injured players.

Eventually finding themselves 34-0 down in the closing stages, the Scots did have the final say through a converted try by replacement Peter Horne.

Barclay said: “We’ll have a look back but there were too many individual errors and too many missed tackles. Our line-out didn’t function all that well and when we got the ball we gave it away.

“It’s hard to find positives, I’m sure there will be some. Wales were superb today and we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Scotland were hoping a return to home comforts would help them to kick-start their campaign.

Scotland 32-26 France

Experienced heads Sean Maitland, Greig Laidlaw, Horne and Ryan Wilson were all drafted into the starting line-up in order to bring ‘organised chaos’ and not just the chaos that ensued in Cardiff.

Maitland was back with a try after 13 minutes, but Scotland would have to fight back from behind thanks to two brilliant individual scores by France winger Teddy Thomas.

Jones kept the hosts in the contest in Edinburgh as the teams turned round with the French leading 20-14, but this is where Laidlaw took over the contest.

The scrum-half kicked six penalties to punish French indiscipline in the second half, with the visitors only replying with two from Baptiste Serin, as the Scots got off the mark.

Townsend said: “The effort it takes to win a Test match is huge, and when you have to do it being behind for most of the game, that shows the character of the squad and the togetherness.

“We were a bit more direct, and we got our rewards.”

Scotland 25-13 England

The oldest rivalry in international rugby was renewed, with Scotland aiming for not only their first win over England since 2008, but also becoming just the second team in 25 games to inflict defeat on their head coach Eddie Jones.

The atmosphere inside BT Murrayfield was as intense as you’d expect and the noise levels were only increased by what was a fantastic first-half performance by the home side.

They first seized control by a try from Huw Jones – their first at home against the English since 2004 – and a brilliant move finished by Maitland and a great run that bought Huw Jones a second gave Scotland a 22-6 half-time lead.

Owen Farrell quickly pulled a score back for England, but ferocious Scottish defence and a dominance at the breakdown ensured a famous victory and the return of the Calcutta Cup to Edinburgh.

Finn Russsell, Scotland’s orchestrator at fly-half, said: “It’s unreal for us. We had a game plan and we executed it really well.

“It’s been a tough couple of weeks but I’ve still enjoyed all the games, especially this one.”

With two wins on the spin, talk of a Championship victory was back on the agenda.

Ireland 28-8 Scotland

Virtually the same side that downed England was fielded against unbeaten Ireland at the Aviva Stadium, where the big difference between the sides was the conversion rate of try-scoring opportunities.

Scotland certainly caused the Irish plenty of problems, with Jones and Hogg repeatedly cutting through their defence, but some errant passing meant they didn’t always go rewarded.

In contrast, Ireland barely wasted a chance, giving a final score that didn’t reflect the balance of play in what was an exciting contest that set Ireland up for their eventual Grand Slam.

But there was the positive of young winger Blair Kinghorn marking his first international start with a try in what was a fine individual performance.

Townsend said: “On reflection, I’m proud of how the team played. We played some really good rugby today around the set-piece, around the contact area, of how we defended and of how we attacked.

“Ireland are a top quality team, playing at home, and we caused them problems.”

Italy 27-29 Scotland

The first match of the final day of the 2018 NatWest 6 Nations produced one of best games of their year’s Championship, as Scotland caught Italy at their best, with the hosts desperate for a first win.

When Tomasso Allan, whose father is Scottish, scored his second try of the game after 45 minutes, the Scots were staring down a 24-12 deficit.

A score by Maitland brought them back in the picture before Hogg, again enjoying a superb Championship, put them in front with nine minutes left, only for Allan’s penalty to restore Italy’s lead.

That still wasn’t the end of the drama, however, as Laidlaw’s boot proved to be Scotland’s match-winner again, as his 79th-minute kick sealed their first NatWest 6 Nations away win for two years.

Hogg said after a breathless encounter: “It was tough at times, right up until 75 minutes. We felt under pressure the whole game.

“It’s two years in a row we’ve managed [three wins], so next year it’s hoping to win the championship. We truly believe we can win trophies here and for us the hard work starts now.”