With 2020 now in full steam, hangovers are fading slowly and the Six Nations is rushing towards us more quickly than Mark Dodson towards the wrong side of an argument. We sat down to have a think about what lies in store for Scotland’s pro teams and the national side itself, using our patented Head/Heart/Arse system to allow never having to truly stick to our guns on anything.
The most likely outcome
Iain: despite securing maximum points in their recent outing against Treviso, Glasgow will struggle to make the play-offs, with their early season form having left them well off the pace. Leinster will walk the conference, Ulster are looking good, and closest rivals Cheetahs have two games in hand against the leaky Southern Kings.
The likely lack of European action will help focus performance on the league, but Glasgow will be lucky to make the play-offs, never mind make another final appearance.
Sandy: the head says they may miss out and fail to make it out of Champions Cup pool although at the moment that’s not really stretching the imagination.
John: I think we’ll come third in the conference, losing in the quarters.
Rory: I think European knockouts are definitely out of reach now, and although I think they have enough class in the squad to get them into the PRO14 playoffs, I think the depth will be tested too hard to get much past a semi.
Alan K: with Europe already gone Rennie focusses his troops on a strong finish to the league season, securing a Champions Cup qualification for 20/21 but a rather timid exit in the play-offs. Summer sees key departures but with a new coach Glasgow secure Nakarawa on a longer-term contract and a decent ‘name’ Scottish qualified player (possibly Skinner) to replace Jonny Gray.
Cammy: Glasgow’s season is already a dead duck. All the focus needs to be on getting into the play-offs and guaranteeing top-flight European rugby next year, and a fresh start under a new coach.
The hopes and dreams, the possibilities
John: Glasgow finish second in the conference, win their semi, qualify for European knockout stages but lose the quarter there (again). We lose the PRO14 final to Leinster by 50…
Iain: having failed to qualify from their Champions Cup group, the troops rally behind departing coach Dave Rennie, and go on a barn-storming run in the PRO14, winning 11 of their remaining 12 matches to qualify in second place. They reclaim the 1872 Cup back from Edinburgh following a Nakarawa masterclass in the final fixture.
They still lose controversially in the semi-final, but Rennie and Jonny Gray can depart the club with their heads held high.
Alan: Glasgow fight their way to the PRO14 final but fall short to Leinster. However, in the process they rediscover their joy for the game, becoming offload central. Wilson secures a number of signings to strengthen the first XV. Glasgow fly out of the blocks in the new season going undefeated up to the, now standard, pre-Xmas capitulation to Edinburgh and also do well in the early rounds of Europe.
Cammy: my heart says Glasgow can still make a European quarter-final but I think that would prove a distraction. In terms of the PRO14 my heart still believes Glasgow can make the final with a good wind behind them, a full-strength squad and Uncle Big Naks throwing some Hollywood offloads.
Sandy: even in my most generous mood the best I can offer from my cold eastern heart is Glasgow reaching the quarter-finals of the PRO14.
Rory: in their current state a PRO14 semi would be an excellent return but my romantic soul would like to see Rennie’s men get to a final and be the only team to beat Leinster this season. Could be talking out my…
The worst case scenario, classic Scottish sporting misery
Iain: the season carries on as it has done so far. Every time you think a corner has been turned, they put in a stinker in the next match. Knowing that Rennie’s on his way out anyway, the players allow standards to drop, biding their time for the new management to come in.
Nakarawa’s return is an unmitigated disaster, leading to further complaints about player recruitment.
John: we finish 5th. Huw Jones leaves, Hastings decides he wants to play for Edinburgh for an unspecified length of time, Zander retires to take up the Tuba (getting lessons from Cammy) and Nakarawa turns out to be rubbish this time round and is rewarded with a 3 year deal…
Rory: or he leaves straight away back to France. Glasgow’s season so far has been pretty much the gold standard for “arse” so I think if they don’t turn it around then that trend will continue until Wilson takes over. Further arse would be no decent signings for next season. Again.
Sandy: I’ll go for not even winning the Champions Cup playoff at the end of the season, and getting beaten in the third leg of the 1872 Cup.
Alan: the decline continues. Nakarawa spends more time in Burger King than on the training field and the season fizzles out, culminating in a dispiriting loss to Ospreys. Wilson comes in and is unable to motivate the squad who are already suspicious after his role in Scotland’s World Cup failure. The Horne brothers fall out at a summer family BBQ resulting in George Horne being released and signing for Exeter. With no top-class European action crowds dramatically drop and the SRU declare that Edinburgh are now the primary focus of all central funding.
Cammy: the year is 2030, Ruaridh Jackson is still first choice full-back and Glasgow Head coach Pete Horne promises top drawer replacements for Jonny Gray and Stuart Hogg in the 33/34 season.
Sandy: my head says Edinburgh will make the quarter-finals of the PRO14 and the semis of the European Challenge Cup.
Iain: putting the Challenge Cup on the backburner, my pre-season prediction that Edinburgh make the play-offs comes true. They top their conference by a point from Munster, but are a little rusty following the week off, and lose out in the semi-final to one of the Irish sides (pick one).
A Top 14 side comes calling for Bill Mata, Edinburgh reluctantly sell, but get a fair whack of compensation for their troubles. It is not reinvested in the playing side.
Rory: they’ll use it for revamping hospitality suites in the new stadium. Head says this Edinburgh side are capable of at least the quarter-finals in both competitions and maybe the semi-final of one.
Alan: Edinburgh continue their strong 19/20 form, finishing a close runner up to Munster in the conference and ultimately lose out to Leinster in semi-final.
John: aye – second place in the conference, lose the semi-final.
Alan: 2020/21 to see Edinburgh continue development, augmented by a couple of key off-season signings (any Scottish qualified Kiwi’s or Saffers that the Exiles Program uncovers) and spurred on by the move to BT Minnifield. The Champions Cup proves to be a struggle and by the end of the year they are out of contention for the knock-out stages.
Cammy: Edinburgh have to come away with something this season. Anything less than a Challenge Cup or Pro 14 semi would be extremely disappointing no matter how much Richard Cockerill pretends that everyone has written them off.
Sandy: winning the Challenge Cup and making the final of the PRO14 would be an excellent season.
John: yup – reach the final, win Challenge Cup.
Alan: reach PRO14 final, and kick on in Europe and get the silverware in the Challenge Cup tier competition.
Rory: our hearts are all in agreement.
Alan: carry that form into 20/21 season and have a Glasgow-esque unbeaten start to the season and a kind European draw. Cockerill to sign a new long term deal, written using Eddie Jones’s blood after they meet up in the bowels of Murrafield during Six Nations. The new stadium results in sell-out crowds as Edinburgh continue their transformation into the Northern Hemisphere’s entertainers.
Cammy: Four words: Greig Laidlaw, Assistant Coach.
Iain: Edinburgh play superbly for the rest of the season and are cruising at the top of the conference going into the last week of the regular campaign, so they put out a second XV for the 1872 Cup decider in search of greater glory, essentially forfeiting the fixture to the mighty Warriors.
Edinburgh do go all the way to the big show in Cardiff, but a dodgy TMO call from the recently returned Ben Skeen screws them out of victory.
The rest of the rugby world looks on in horror as Leinster are handed their third successive PRO14 title.
Rory: how can that last bit be in your heart?!
Iain: because at least it stops Edinburgh winning the PRO14.
Sandy: arse for Edinburgh would be falling away towards the end of the regular PRO14 season and missing out on both the knockout stages this year, and Champions Cup rugby next year.
John: they bottle it, lose the group in Europe, fail to make the league play-offs, Cockerill gets the England job, Bennett comes back to Glasgow on loan and scores the winner in last 1872…
Alan: a squad ravaged by injuries in the Six Nations limps out of Europe and the PRO14 play-offs. Summer sees Mata move to France, Van Der Merwe gains Scottish qualification and moves to England. Cockerill falls out with SRU and moves on, replaced by Alan Solomons. Edinburgh revert to ‘up the jumper’ rugby. An Indian burial ground is discovered during the building works for mini-Murrayfield and Jamie Ritchie is sucked into a TV never to be seen again.
Iain: a spate of injuries to the likes of Mata and Schoeman during the Six Nations window sees Edinburgh struggle to maintain momentum, and they are soon toppled from the summit of Conference B.
Richard Cockerill becomes so incensed at the standard of refereeing in the Pro14 that he vows to never speak to the press again, and changes his name to a symbol of a shark on a motorbike. It cannot be pronounced in English, so you have to wave to get his attention.
Rory: arse would be all of the above – maybe not the shark thing – losing Bill Mata to France, South Africa capping Schoeby-doo before we do and the new “stadium” still not being ready for next season.
Cammy: The Duhan and Schoeby-doo are at risk of a South African raid. They were both marching around Murrayfield with a South African flag with Jaco Van Der Walt during the 2018 Autumn Test.
Losing Cockerill to a Premiership or International side remains a risk. He’s settled in Edinburgh but can’t help think he’d jump at the opportunity to go somewhere with regular top-flight European rugby. That wouldn’t just be a disaster for Edinburgh but potentially Scotland as well…
Iain: after all the recent coaching upheaval, disjointed performances see Scotland win only one from five of their Six Nations fixtures, including one extreme doing, just when it looks like the players have adapted to Steve Tandy’s defence structure.
The summer tour also sees one good performance, but two pretty severe beatings at the hands of South Africa and New Zealand.
Toony steps down at end of summer, and an underwhelming interim coach is placed in charge for the autumn tests.
John: head says 5th in Six Nations, Toonie sacked at the end of it.
Alan: with Watson and Skinner back Scotland have a solid, but unspectacular, Six Nations and finish 4th. However, they retain the Calcutta Cup and, as a consequence, get to keep Owen Farrell on the mantelpiece.
The summer tour sees Scotland run Sout Africa close in the first test but struggle in the subsequent games against the Springboks and New Zealand. Following an Autumn test series where Scotland struggle to wins against Japan and Argentina and heavy loss to a fired-up New Zealand side sees Scotland and Townsend part ways. As ever, hopes for 2021 will be built up and then dashed on the cold harsh rocks of rugby reality.
Cammy: My head and my arse aren’t far apart when it comes to Scotland. Townsend seemed downbeat when speaking to the “official” podcast and at a loss to explain what had gone wrong in Japan, which is a worry. Matt Taylor’s “exit interview” with RugbyPass didn’t make encouraging reading either.
There’s continuity in the England setup, a certain amount in Ireland and Wales’s new set up have already had a chance to get their hands dirty against the Barbarians. Scotland have two new coaches, another on his way out and a raft of senior players retiring.
We’re not in a good place; I think Richard Cockerill takes over in time for the summer tour.
Sandy: we may avoid the wooden spoon by beating Italy, and then in the Autumn beating Japan at Murrayfield.
Rory: I think we can win in Rome, and beat Argentina and Japan at home. If the Six Nations goes well then who knows but knocking off any one of the World Champs or New Zealand home or away would be a monumental task based on what we saw from Scotland in 2019.
Sandy: we win the Six Nations. Always worth dreaming.
Rory: heart is a Grand Slam, every year. I’ve had my heart broken a few times though. A first win over New Zealand would be nice too, especially with Hogg playing. He almost got there last time. Some sign that the coaches are having a positive effect would be good. With the in tactic now kick passes, Finn Russell has a blinding year nutmegging and grubber kicking fools all over the place and becomes top choice for the Lions starting 10.
Alan: with a full-strength squad to pick from, and a refresh of the coaching team, Scotland revert to the free-flowing, confident rugby of late 2017. A 2nd place finish in the Six Nations is followed up with a test victory in South Africa and a surprise draw in Dunedin. George Horne comes of age on the international stage and with Van Der Merwe now Scottish qualified the tries flow. Hogg is back to his best and with Skinner and Gray now team-mates at Exeter the pack is solidified and functioning. Someone works out a defensive shape (dear Lord, please let this happen!).
The year ends with thumping victories over Japan and Argentina and an epic first victory over the All Blacks. Townsend sees in the year as the toast of Scottish Rugby and a host of Scotland players are baked into the 2021 Lions squad.
Iain: a smash and grab job in Dublin lifts confidence and sets Scotland on their way to a crack at the Six Nations title, but they fall short with an agonising defeat to Wales in Cardiff, courtesy of a Dan Biggar penalty which hits off an upright and the crossbar before trickling over.
During the summer tour, Scotland bounce back from a first match humbling by South Africa to inexplicably triumph in the second match playing full-tilt, Finnsanity rugby.
New Zealand win the summer test thanks to some Grade-A, breakdown outhousery, but revenge is sweetly served at Murrayfield in the autumn, a 40m drop-goal by Stuart Hogg with 3 minutes remaining proving decisive.
John: third in the Six Nations and Toonie stays.
Cammy: heart says third in Six Nations, we keep to within 10 to 15 points of South Africa and New Zealand in the summer, win two of our Autumn Tests and get within 7 points of New Zealand.
Off the pitch, the coaching team click, Townsend brings in Ben Ryan or Stuart Lancaster as attack coach and Matt Proudfoot as the new forwards coach. The SRU also stump up the cash for a full time sports psychologist/mental skills coach to work with players full time, with two more appointed to look after the academies.
Rory: you’ve all illustrated how jaded our Scottish rugby hearts have become.
Sandy: sadly, arse rules here and I’m worried that this could be a whitewash year for Scotland.
Rory: there is a chance we could lose every game this year. The only one we should have any form or expectation to win is maybe Argentina in the autumn. Italy in Rome for possibly Parisse’s final match and even Japan at home after their showing in the World Cup are potential banana skins too now. The rest? Ouch.
Imagine World Cup level South Africa, Japan and England show up, the World Cup opener version of Ireland and Grand Slam Wales, plus we play NZ twice. We’d be banking on Argentina and France as the only teams that couldn’t put 40+ points on us with ease. And you never know with France either. Given a lot of them are in transition and Scotland have a new defence coach, hopefully that nightmare scenario doesn’t unfold.
Alan: disorganisation reigns, both on and off the pitch. Scotland collapse to a humiliating wooden spoon, encapsulated by a comic performance in Rome including 2 intercepts and a charge down in the first 10 minutes. History will call this the “Revenge of Godman” game. Hogg is subject to a no arms Farrell tackle and is out injured until 2021. The summer will see dispiriting but predictable losses and Townsend returns home from NZ in shame after a record hammering in Dunedin.
At the post-game meal in November Dodson spits in the ramen and accuses his Japanese guests of skulduggery resulting in a full-blown diplomatic incident. As punishment, World Rugby demand Dodson sees in the new year outside the Japanese embassy with his trousers round his ankles and a thistle sticking out of somewhere uncomfortable.
Iain: same as head – but remove any last morsel of positivity. We get horsed in the Six Nations, Toony steps down, Big Vern is brought back, it goes disastrously, and before you know it, we’re third seeds for the next World Cup.
Jamie Ritchie spontaneously combusts on the pitch v New Zealand, a stray piece of bandage from The Mish catches aflame, and the “Pinball Wizard” burns his hand so severely he can never fend again…
Cammy: I’d take Big Vern back in a heartbeat. Like I said my head and arse are close together when it comes to Scotland’s 2020. The only way things would get worse is if Cockerill turns down the Scotland job. At that point Mark Dodson should be stood outside GGL Stadium in Montpellier holding a boombox above his head blaring out 500 miles like John Cusack in Say Anything. As it is I think it’s more likely that the SRU’s “worldwide” search for a replacement for Townsend will end up with Steve Tandy or Jim Mallinder as head coach.
John: sixth of the Six Nations, Toonie sacked, Scott Johnson misses Irn Bru so badly he takes the head coach role, brings Matt Taylor back and hires Stuart Lancaster as a consultant, only for him to renege on the contract and take over at the Ospreys, now seen as a better option…
What are your predictions for 2020?