A totally timely and not at all several weeks late review of Scotland’s Six Nations

“Rugby’s Greatest Championship” may now be branded marketing with less emotional impact than a Labrador playing with toilet roll, but despite this it remains accurate. The Six Nations is an extraordinary competition, and this year’s was more exciting, more controversial, more unbelievable, more Dave Cherry, more everything than perhaps any before.  

From a Caledonian perspective it seems preposterous to suggest that a tournament in which Scotland finished fourth out of six is their best in two decades, particularly when on multiple occasions they’ve finished higher. But in a world where home is work, lawyers are hairdressers, fresh air is greeted with facemasks and jesters are Prime Ministers, perhaps it’s more appropriate. Because Scotland quite literally almost won the Six Nations. 

Yes, there was the now traditional implosion against an Ireland team that even hobbling about on their zimmer frames was able to give us an embarrassing runaround. Yes, we should perhaps (probably?) have beaten eventual champions Wales, and yes, beating Italy this year in particular is about as noteworthy for prosperity as beating an egg. 

But in a tournament that gave us the genuine excitement of Le Crunch and… whatever the French call their games against Wales, the controversy of enough reds to make a matador blush, and the denied-their-slam-but-still Jam Champs Welsh, Scots will rightly remember its bookends. A thumping, colossal, Kaiju-sized, erm, 11-6… hell with it, decimation of England in the black hole of hope and glory that is Twickenham. A hard fought, do or die, never say never, absolute pummelling of a… four-point victory over France in Paris. 

Oh, for the mediocrity of champions. 

Lest ecstasy take one too far from reality, the Wales and Ireland games should stick in the memory. So too should the England scoreline because Scotland spent more of 2021 next to the tryline than bartenders have next to the pumps and took precious little reward from it. 

The collapse against Ireland was enough for many to proclaim the end of progress and flash back to the nightmares of the noughties. But to be as cold and dispassionate as a Scotland rugby fan is able, Gregor Townsend’s side is making real, measurable, progress.  

Technically,” we were minded to say last year, Scotland were in with a chance of winning the Six Nations right up until the finale but the quantum equations that would have been required put the feat on roughly the same level of likelihood as a third professional team being founded on the moon. Or, you suppose, anywhere.

This year that possibility was absent by the time of the final game but second place was as real to see as Hamish Watson’s barnet; wild, preposterous, and right there in front of us being referred to as lightweight by a professional Saracens shill.

But for the absence of one try it was ours.

Alas, a bonus point win at Stade de France eluded us but in the final reckoning it mattered not. Because if you’re minded to argue that the Wales and Ireland games should have gone Scotland’s way, spare a thought for Gallic fans who spent a quiet Friday evening watching with horror over cabernet and waffles as their doom inexorably approached. Surely they must be minded to say they should have won that one. 

And it’s a mark of the differing mentalities between the countries that France’s second place will be bitter in the mouth and Scotland’s fourth tastes as sweet as a Championship victory. But of course it is. Gone are the days when the Italy match alone would decide whether Murrayfield’s kitchen would be granted another ignomious utensil – but they’re still ripe in the memory. 

2015 saw a last-place, nul point, humiliation for the men in blue. Of the six tournaments since though, they’ve seen four fourths, one third, and a fifth. These are not the numbers of rip-roaring success but they are better than the four fifths, one third, and a sixth that preceded them. 

Scotland have, for a decade now, been able to beat almost anyone in the world… at home, in the mud, on their day, with incongruous aid from nematodes and appropriate sacrifices made to benevolent gods. This Scotland team can do it away, they can do it with flair, they can do it with graft, they can do it in the final moments when a more traditional outcome is tryline fever and unforced error. They are not the finished article, they are not consistent enough, they are not yet champion material, but they are unmistakably closer than they were. 

A little more luck there, a little less French referee there, and talk of this being a three-way fight for the title isn’t the product of a fever-induced madness, but a reflection of reality. France had a wonderful win over Wales, but they also lost to England whom you will recall, have been joyously abysmal this year. Wales almost lost to Ireland. Scotland almost beat Wales. 

Historically looking at these “what ifs” has been a coping mechanism for Scotland fans who can’t quite understand why they’ve laden so much of their emotional wellbeing in a rudderless ship with a hole in the front. This year they’re fun because rather than trying to explain away a wooden spoon, they put us within fingertips of the trophy. Scotland have gone from almost getting a win to almost winning it all. 

Inevitably talk will now move on to the Lions. Inevitably Warren Gatland will field a team of Pokémon before he gives many Scots their due consideration. But pick the finest players from across England, Wales, and Ireland, put them in red and march them onto the pitch at Murrayfield to face Watson, Ritchie, Cherry, Harris, Van der Merwe et al and the result is not the foregone conclusion it would have been because Scotland are not just better than they were; they are much better than they were. 

No one would begrudge you saying, “let’s not get carried away.” Too often the dawn has been a mirage and Scotland have found themselves still lost in the night. But it’s been a torrid year. Cut off from family and friends, denied a social existence, in too many cases faced with real loss that goes far beyond anything that may transpire in a game of rugby. 

Sport is at its core, just entertainment for spectators. It’s Godzilla vs Kong; a big, loud, shiny spectacle to distract us from other things. It doesn’t matter. 

And yet it does. It affects us. It moulds us. It helps define us. It can hurt us, and hinder us, and bring out the worst in us. 

And it can connect us though we’re separated, bring us joy amid sadness, and give us hope for a fair wind and a brighter tomorrow.  

Being a Scotland rugby fan at the end of March (and on into April) has so often been an exercise in such crushing disappointment it takes ten months to slip the shackles and dare to dream again.  

This year it will have been the only thing to make some of us smile past tragedy and keep us standing when we want to fall. 

“We’re not going to get carried away,” said Stuart Hogg, “[but] we’re going to enjoy this moment and start building towards something memorable. I’m the captain of a very, very proud nation.” 

Professional players would do well to follow their captain’s lead. Those of us on the sidelines need not.  

Because it’s 2021 and Scotland almost won the Six Nations. 

Carried away? Perhaps. 

Proud? Unquestionably.  

19 comments on “A totally timely and not at all several weeks late review of Scotland’s Six Nations

  1. Sam Laycock on

    Has anyone ever won the 6 nations with just 3 wins? Is it even possible?
    Every game not containing Italy is a 50/50 now but that being true you would expect a return of 3/2 most times. My prediction is we see a team winning with the fewest number of points ever before we see another Slam.

  2. Wrellim on

    That could mean the Italy game could be the most important. Whoever can shaft Italy the most to win on points.

  3. FF on

    2022 6N schedule out:

    England (H)
    Wales (A)
    France (H)
    Italy (A)
    Ireland (A)

    Nice to start at home but hate playing England in feb when weather is usually rubbish.

  4. James on

    Good article. Could be my “glass half empty” view point but I can’t see this Championship as our best as we ended up 4th. Yes we were within a tap-tackle of winning the whole thing, but the point is that tackle was made and we didn’t beat Wales when we should have. Until we can get more consistency in our performances so we don’t have these collapses we won’t be seen as a good team. On the plus side, I think we’re not far from getting that and there’s a good chance we can the Championship in the next few seasons.

    • FF on

      All those things are true but when have we had a better championship?

      The season we beat Ireland and Wales under Cotter felt good but ended with a total humiliation at Twickenham. 2018 was good, beating France and England at home in some style, and THAT pass, but we also got humiliated in Cardiff and swatted aside in Dublin.

      This year was both inspiring and frustrating. Winning for the finest time in Twickenham in 30-odd years and Paris since 1999 were epic wins. We were rubbish against Ireland but not far off a result and sporadically great and reckless against Wales. But this is the first time we’ve been truly competitive in every game and you can sense the growing belief in the side.

      Next years championship is a big opportunity and we simply have to back up this year, we have limited seasons left with Russell and Hogg at the top of their games and if we get our full size out I think we have a very strong team.

      So I think this probably was our best ever 6N, but hopefully that won’t be true for much longer.

    • Merlot on

      We may have come 4th but only because of the bonus point system which came in in 2017. Under the old system we would have been 3rd and only one point (points difference) from Ireland in 2nd.
      We have never come higher than 3rd so it is at least as good as any other 6N. We have never won more than 3 games either, so equal top in that regard.
      We scored more tries than any other year, and had the best try difference ever too.
      Beating England and France away is ENORMOUS. Generally our best results come in even number years when we have those two giants at Murrayfield. So YES, it was our best six nations ever.
      It’s good that we expect more now, but it is easy to forget how much has changed in the last ten years.

  5. Big Al on

    Nicely written article.

    With hindsight I dont think there was any doubt that the lack of crowds had an effect. I like to think that we would certainly have won the Wales game and probably the Ireland game if we’d all been there backing the boys.

    I dont think it had that big an impact on the England game. We seem to have sussed them out and have a plan for them that works especially when they were woeful and didnt see us coming.

    France was a funny game and if they’d had their support they might well have comfortably won that game. However, we seemed to have better mentality than them and the keep ball game with the clock red in the lead up to the winning try is a real step forward for this team.

    As for the players, Redpath looks a good one, we’re starting to see what the coaches see in Harris, our back row can compete with everyone as can our scrum when given a chance by the ref. Van der Merwe can finish and if he looks for more work and improves his defense will get a lot of caps. If we can sort out the lineout and the discipline then no-one will fancy playing us home or away.

    Finally a word for Hogg. The players seem to like his leadership and respect him and hes really grown in to the role. I was taken by Watson calling him boss when he was awarded player of the championship.

  6. Grumpy on

    If Harris is such a wonderful defensive back , I wonder why he has played for Newcastle and Gloucester , both bottom half of the premiership clubs ? He will get plenty of tackle practice, however , they are consistently also ran’s. You also need to score to win.

    Scotland appear to have an attacking full back, a defending Centre (which is the polar opposite of what you would expect) and a fly-half that is dangerous. I think we are going to be consistently stuck in the middle of the table for a while yet.

      • Invisible on

        Is it because he is unseen that he plays rugby for sides that will never win the premiership and his strengths are not noticed? In the name of the wee donkey , that is why I never got it before, I have not been looking for some thing that is hidden in plain sight.

    • Johnny b on

      Good enough Johnny May and Louis Rees Zammit.

      Traditional powerhouse of the English Game.

  7. Bryzzowan78 on

    Can anyone explain why the tournament does not any longer seem to vary the mix of home and away opponents each year? Maybe I’ve missed something – but we’ve had the home/away combos of England/France vs Wales/Ire/Italy for years now I think? Didn’t it use to vary year on year?

    • Grant on

      Nope , ‘‘twas always thus , we had England and France at home , odd no years , and Ireland and Wales in evens . What has changed is there used to be a set progression in the order , so each of the games took its turn as “first” less so now ( see how we get Italy last all too often) as the Tv tries to have “exciting” “ meaningful” games on the final Saturday.

  8. AndyF on

    Reminiscing now!
    Before ‘my’ time I think the tradition was to start with France and end with England each year.
    Since I can remember though (late ’70’s) the order was Wales > England > Ireland > France with the starting opponents varying but the sequence staying the same.
    Games were every fortnight so unless your bye week was 1st or last you went a month without playing.
    Also remember, in the pre-floodlight days, both games starting at 2pm, region appropriate coverage with highlights of the other game following on at full time.

    Mixing up the schedule is a good thing I think but it has almost become as predictable as it was before. “Super Saturday” is a nice way of saying put Italy/Scotland on at 12.30 so we can spend the bulk of the day bigging up the main game. I think I saw a table once showing Ireland get Italy 1st up a disproportionate amount of times.
    Thankfully we’ve thrown enough spanners in the works by making it very difficult for TV execs to work out who the decider will be between each year.

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