The Lowdown: Scotland

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Despite a largely settled side and long-standing coach there is an element of unpredictability to Scotland.

Despite a largely settled side and long-standing coach there is an element of unpredictability to Scotland.

They finished fourth in last year’s Guinness Six Nations and won just two of their Autumn Nations Series fixtures, but neither return really did their performances justice.

So what can we truly expect? First under the microscope in our team previews ahead of the 2023 Championship, is Scotland.

Game plan

An exciting team to watch packed full of attacking talent, Scotland led the way of all tier one teams for defenders beaten per game in 2022.

That is a testament to the pace and power of Darcy Graham and Duhan van der Merwe on the wing, so the loss of the former through injury is a huge blow ahead of this campaign.

As ever, much of their play will flow through Finn Russell, so expect darting runs off the fly-half from roaming wingers as well as ambitious passing moves to create space out wide.

Coach – Gregor Townsend

Capped 82 times for Scotland as a player, Gregor Townsend will be regarded as one of Scottish rugby’s all-time greats.

He played a starring role in his country’s last Championship success, scoring in all four rounds as Scotland won the final instalment of the Five Nations in 1999.

Ahead of his sixth campaign as head coach, he will be looking to inspire the class of 2023 to more magic moments as they bid to end a 24-year wait for the top prize.

Captain – Jamie Ritchie

This Championship will be flanker Jamie Ritchie’s first as Scotland captain.

A former Scotland U20 skipper, Ritchie’s rapid rise to the senior side was complete when winning a first cap against Canada in 2018.

The 26-year-old was vice-captain when Scotland ended a 38-year wait for a win at Twickenham in 2021 and captained his country for the first time outright in their narrow Autumn Nations Series defeat to Australia.

Star man – Finn Russell

The sheer brilliance of Finn Russell has gone viral once again in recent weeks.

In true Russell style, he somehow found a way to slalom his way through a packed Leinster defence before effortlessly spinning wide to Racing 92 teammate Christian Wade in their Heineken Champions Cup clash.

After a brief spell in the wilderness, Scotland’s principal playmaker is firmly back in the fold now and having devastated England on his last two trips to Twickenham, watch out for more hair-raising moments in Round 1.

Breakthrough candidate – Ollie Smith

Fledging full-back Ollie Smith studied videos of Australia fly-half Quade Cooper in his youth.

The maverick playmaker was once considered to have the best step in world rugby, and so he certainly would have been proud of the finish which saw Smith cross for the first time as a Test international.

He might have wished that Smith opened his account against a different opponent mind you, as the 22-year-old waltzed through the Wallabies defence to score in Round 1 of the Autumn Nations Series.

He deputised for the injured Stuart Hogg that day, and with Scotland’s fourth all-time appearance maker an injury doubt once more, Smith could be in line to shine on the opening weekend.

Regardless, a bright future lies ahead he and could feature on the wing if chances are limited on Hogg’s return.

Unsung hero – Grant Gilchrist

Scotland are not short of a few workhorses in the engine room. Jonny and Richie Gray have been stalwarts for the best part of a decade, Sam Skinner is a Heineken Champions Cup winner and Cameron Henderson is the emerging forward in Gregor Townsend’s squad.

And though each could make a strong case for a starting spot, they are largely vying for a place alongside Grant Gilchrist.

Mr Consistent, he skippered Scotland in each of their last two summer tours having first been selected to lead his country as a 23-year-old under former head coach Vern Cotter.

Now in the autumn of his career at 32, he is showing no sign of slowing down having played the full 80 minutes in all but two games for Edinburgh this season.

2022 performance – Fourth

The high point of Scotland’s 2022 Championship was undoubtedly their Calcutta Cup success in Round 1.

Finn Russell’s late penalty made a bit of history too, as Scotland secured successive wins over England for the first time since 1984.

They were 20-17 winners that day but on the wrong end of the same scoreline a week later in Wales before France hit them for six tries at Murrayfield in Round 3.

An 11th consecutive win over Italy followed but the campaign ended with a whimper as Ireland wrapped up the Triple Crown in dominant fashion.

There some bright sparks – most notably the try-scoring heroics of Darcy Graham and the emergence of flanker Rory Darge, who joins Graham on the treatment table for the start of this campaign.

Projected line-up

15. Stuart Hogg, 14. Sean Maitland, 13. Chris Harris, 12. Sione Tuipulotu, 11. Duhan van der Merwe, 10. Finn Russell, 9. Ali Price, 1. Pierre Schoeman, 2. Fraser Brown, 3. WP Nel (until Zander Fagerson is fit), 4. Richie Gray, 5. Grant Gilchrist, 6. Jamie Ritchie, 7. Hamish Watson, 8. Matt Fagerson

Home ground

A city steeped in history that remains one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe, Edinburgh is the heart and home of Scottish rugby.

BT Murrayfield may be located three miles from Edinburgh’s centre, but it remains a key pillar of the city, with travelling rugby fans able to reach the stadium in as little as six minutes from Princes Street.

Strength: A balanced and settled back-line

If you want evidence of how potent Scotland can be, look no further than their valiant 31-23 defeat to New Zealand in the Autumn Nations Series.

With Finn Russell’s ingenuity, Stuart Hogg’s raw pace and a menacing centre pairing of Chris Harris and Sione Tuipulotu, they have the personnel to unlock the northern hemisphere’s toughest defences. And if Townsend wants to mix things up, youngster Cameron Redpath (pictured below) could be another solution in the midfield, having made his debut in that landmark success at Twickenham two years ago.

Weakness: Discipline

With four yellow cards in three Autumn Nations Series matches, Gregor Townsend will hope his team can clean up their act.

Had they avoided cautions at critical moments against Australia and New Zealand, they could have come away with a couple of famous victories.

There is also a concern about depth in the front row, particularly with Zander Fagerson’s hamstring injury that may keep him out of the opening rounds.

What the press are saying

Alan Dymock, Rugby World editor: “As ever with Scotland, their Six Nations is about avoiding quicksand: fall into a tough spot early on and the more they scramble to climb out, the harder things can get.

“Front five depth is a major concern with Zander Fagerson’s (pictured) fitness being monitored by an entire nation.

“Their discipline was poor in November. And there are new attack coaches in place now.

“However, Scotland have three home matches and Twickenham is no longer a daunting stop-off on their travels. Win there, it offers an emotional boost. But don’t kid yourself, they will have to scrap all tournament long.”

If they were a pop group, they would be…Eurythmics

Enjoyed unforeseen success in the 80s and when winning a second-ever Grand Slam in 1984 it really was a case of ‘Sweet Dreams (are made of this).’

Tough times followed in the 90s but they found ‘Peace’ again with a Championship win in 1999.

Haven’t quite hit the heights since the turn of the century but never cease to entertain or stir the soul.