Scotland coach Gregor Townsend knows what it feels like to lift the Championship trophy and he claims that winning the Guinness Six Nations is the pinnacle of international rugby.
As a player, Townsend triumphed in the Championship’s final iteration as the Five Nations – becoming the first Scot since 1925 to score a try against every country in a single edition en route to the 1999 crown.
Now, the 45-year-old is hoping to mastermind a first Scottish triumph since then from the sidelines and made a promising start last year as he led his troops to a third-place finish with three victories.
Away wins over Argentina and Canada in the summer were followed by another victory against Los Pumas in the Autumn Internationals, while Fiji were also handily dispatched at BT Murrayfield, meaning confidence is high in the Scottish camp.
But Townsend admits the Championship is a different beast entirely and insists it’s the ultimate challenge, even with a World Cup scheduled later this year.
“The Guinness Six Nations is tougher than November tests,” said Townsend, speaking at the 2019 Guinness Six Nations launch in London. “The quality of opposition we will be facing is very high.
“If you look at the rankings, we are facing some of the best teams in the world. This is a standalone tournament – we don’t want to see it in the same context as the World Cup.
“This is like our World Cup every year. It’s the biggest championship for us to be involved in with the history, the number of homes games and its uniqueness.
“Winning is the pinnacle of what you can achieve in international rugby. We will always strive to do as well as possible in the Six Nations.”
Scotland begin the 2019 Guinness Six Nations as they ended the 2018 edition – facing Conor O’Shea’s Italy.
The Azzurri almost bested their visitors in Rome last year before Greig Laidlaw booted a 79th-minute penalty for a 29-27 triumph but this time, the clash will be on Scottish soil.
Townsend knows the importance of home advantage – especially as Scotland haven’t lost a Championship match at BT Murrayfield since Round 1 in 2016 – and is adamant the tone for the rest of the Guinness Six Nations is set early on.
“The first 20 minutes of our first game will be so important,” he added. “We need to stick in the fight longer than we did in games last year.
“I think getting a home game is a good start to the Championship because there is no travel and you can do things in your own training venue which should lead to a better performance.
“We wanted a home start – whether it was Italy or Ireland doesn’t really matter.
“It’s not going to be an easy game. We’ve had recent reminders of how good Italian rugby is as Glasgow lost to Treviso a few weeks ago and we should have lost to Italy last year.
“We need to start our campaign with finding a way to win.”