What lies ahead: Scotland

Scotland finished what was another positive NatWest 6 Nations campaign by picking up three victories from their five games in 2018.

Scotland finished what was another positive NatWest 6 Nations campaign by picking up three victories from their five games in 2018.

It allowed them to finish third in the table, their best finish since 2013, in what was a first Championship in charge for head coach Gregor Townsend.

But how can the Scots build on their famous 25-13 victory over England that burst the bubble of Eddie Jones’ men and the fighting qualities they showed in their wins over France and Italy?

Here, we look at what’s next for Scotland.   Transatlantic Test

It’s almost three months until Scotland return to action when they go on a tour of the Americas that should give Townsend a chance to test out other options, as well as work on established combinations.

First up is a match against Canada in Edmonton that the Scots will be big favourites to win before they face an improving USA in Houston in a game they’d be wise to not take lightly.

Their 27-22 defeat against Fiji last summer should ensure that no complacency creeps into their game before the final match of the tour against Argentina, which is the toughest on paper.

What will encourage Townsend ahead of the match in Resistencia is the fact that Scotland have won their last three matches against the Pumas on their turf. Three wins out of three would represent more progress.

They then face a busy autumn, as they travel to Principality Stadium to face Wales before Fiji, South Africa and Argentina all visit BT Murrayfield in November.

Key to consistency

There’s no question that Scotland are a much-improved outfit to where they were three years ago, but the next step is to become more consistent performers.

The peaks and troughs of their 2017 were summed up by their fantastic 53-24 win over Australia in Edinburgh coming a matter of months after a heavy 61-21 defeat against England at Twickenham.

The same fluctuations occurred during their 2018 NatWest 6 Nations campaign, with their first victory over the English in a decade happening just three weeks after what was a disappointing start against Wales.

What became clear, though, was that Townsend is a fast learner, as he quickly found a balance between flair and substance after the Scots played too loose in the 34-7 loss at Cardiff.

That they managed to pick up an away win at Italy on the final day should also stand them in good stead, as they look to build an away record which compares with their dominant recent home record.

Ending a 20-year wait

Next year’s Championship will mark 20 years since Scotland’s last title in 1999, during which Townsend scored in every one of their games.

It is fair to say the Scots haven’t come close to lifting the trophy since, with third place the best they have managed since then.

They will have three home fixtures in 2019 and they have made BT Murrayfield a fortress in the last couple of years, winning their last ten matches at the venue, but it is their away games that will decide how competitive they are.

By coincidence, the 1999 Championship was also the last time they defeated France in Paris and it’s even longer since they emerged victorious in England, their 1983 triumph still being their most recent at Twickenham.

But following some impressive performances under both Vern Cotter and now Townsend, these are encouraging times for Scotland.