First, the bad news – we’re without the irreplaceable Kevin’s previews for the tournament, so you are stuck with something perhaps far less nutritious – and definitely not as well researched – but hopefully just as tasty. The Lidl’s Wheat Biscuits of Scotland previews, if you will.
A new year, springtime is almost here and it’s time for the Six Nations. Go and watch the Netflix Doc, get hyped, then come back (note – this will only work for Scotland fans as no other teams are featured).
Scotland have recently picked up wins in France and England, putting paid to long-standing Six Nations hoodoos. Last year they won their opening two games for the first time since the expansion to six teams, eventually finishing third after a run holding down fourth spot consistently since 2020.
Under what the Americans would refer as our “winningest” coach in Gregor Townsend, it seems like an upward trend – provided you ignore World Cups and results against Ireland.
From here, Scotland must target second place – at least – in the tournament, for any sense of improvement to take root. It would also be nice to be in genuine (rather than “hold on we need Kev back” mathematical) contention for the tournament going into the final round.
Merely seeming to be a bit better each year, and gradually getting past longstanding mental hurdles, may no longer be enough for a Gregor Townsend regime without a Dodson-shaped umbrella to shelter under. Toony was right in every team talk he gave in the Netflix Six Nations: Full Contact documentary – if the team execute, they can beat anyone.
But can he encourage consistent levels of execution and a wee bit of luck over the five rounds of a Six Nations? And is it his fault if the players don’t?
That’s what it will take to dislodge one of France or Ireland. With the tournament getting ever closer, England and Wales might be resurgent, after better World Cups than expected. And as always Italy are lurking, with a new coaching setup ready to start turning their ship around too.
All of which means a few silly errors here, a dodgy decision (referee or player) there, and Scotland are battling it out in the basement again. Of course, there are (at least) three ways it could go on the first weekend…
Wales v Scotland: Head
The 2024 Six Nations kicks off with a trip to Wales in Cardiff. There have been wins over Wales (2020, 2023), wins over Wales in Wales (2020), and even wins over Warren Gatland (2023). But Scotland are still yet to beat Wales under Gatland in the Principality Stadium; overall the recent trend is bleak.
Head says Scotland should win this, but it won’t be comfortable.
While the heart (see below) will always pick a Scotland win, it is unusual for the head to be nearly in alignment. Before the tournament begins maybe less so – there’s always that wee bit of hope.
Scotland should have the players, and the experience, to win this. Finn Russell is in great form for Bath (that late kick against Bristol at the weekend notwithstanding), Blair Kinghorn is ripping it up alongside Antoine Dupont at Toulouse and our level of competition by form – not just reputation – in the back row is insane.
The head being the sensible version, it would at least caution that our strength at tighthead prop in particular is a worry.
With most of the squad now having experience of the cauldron of noise at the Principality, Scotland should not be overawed and should look to get a win to start off the tournament well.
Wales v Scotland: Heart
This is the year, everyone! And it starts with a hammering of Gatland’s kids down in their own backyard. England and Wales over-performed in the World Cup so sure, they have bragging rights over us also-rans who went out in the group stages, but as the new year rolls in they are without a Titanic lifeboat’s worth of big names and experience.
Signed on for four years, Gatland is building for the next World Cup and blooding a lot of young players. Wales called up one more uncapped player than Scotland’s four, but also a further eight yet to play in the Six Nations. They have very few players with 50+ caps and most are in the backs. In four years they will more than likely be a threat, but now is the time to get them while they are still teething.
Gone: Alun-Wyn Jones, Dan Biggar, Dan Lydiate, Jon Davies, Luis Rees-Zammit (lol), Gareth Anscombe, Leigh Halfpenny.
We’ve got bags of players in form, not too many injuries, and a pretty settled side. So what if we got rid of Brad Mooar the attack consultant and have only one quality tighthead? That just makes us more unpredictable!
Bonus point win please.
Can’t wait to see this lifted out of context by WalesOnline…
Wales v Scotland: Arse
This game is, after all, in Cardiff. Graveyard of so many Scottish dreams. The last time the teams met in Cardiff, Wales dragged Scotland into a second-half arm wrestle masterminded by Dan Biggar and ran out late winners. History suggests that “Scotland in Cardiff” is more likely to go this way than any of the either two. But we don’t believe in history, do we?
Oh, we do?
Well in that case it will be more of the same from 2021 when Scotland were unable to impose their attacking game and lost the dogfight. Wales have nothing to lose, essentially starting the 2027 World Cup squad from scratch this weekend, why wouldn’t they set out a statement of intent?
At scrum-time they will feel they can get an edge with Javan “not picked for Wales” Sebastian now our backup tighthead after WP Nel picked up a shoulder injury in training, and Will Hurd already out. Does Toony thrust uncapped Elliot Millar-Mills in?
If Wales cannot figure out how to “arse” us this way, the next teams up will be damn sure to target that particular set piece, making it a long old tournament. It’s not so much a weakness as a sign stuck on our back saying “kick me” – and they told us it was there but we still can’t take it off.
If your mates from other countries are going on about how “the Scots are always talking themselves up”, just scream very loudly about our tighthead crisis well in advance, so you have the receipts.
Having done reasonably well with Ben O’Keeffe as referee in recent years, chances are he suddenly takes a dislike to us and bins whoever has been picked to replace the already banned Grant Gilchrist for an act there will be 2-3 unpunished versions of elsewhere on opening weekend.
We’ve never mastered Wales under Gatland (see also: Ireland with Sexton) and you can’t bet your mortgage that we’ll be able to now, even if we “should”. We’ve heard “should” quite a lot over the years. In this scenario, once again we will be facing the criticism of our experienced heads failing to deliver on the big stage.
Phew – conjuring up the apocalyptic version is so much easier after decades watching Scotland.
Now that you are all cheered up, how do you see the game going? Is there a fourth way?
Wales: Cameron Winnett, Rio Dyer, Owen Watkin, Nick Tompkins, Josh Adams; Sam Costelow, Gareth Davies; Corey Domachowski, Ryan Elias, Leon Brown, Dafydd Jenkins (capt), Adam Beard, James Botham, Tommy Reffell, Aaron Wainwright.
Replacements: Elliot Dee, Kemsley Mathias, Keiron Assiratti, Teddy Williams, Alex Mann, Tomos Williams, Ioan Lloyd, Mason Grady.
Scotland: Kyle Rowe, Kyle Steyn, Huw Jones, Sione Tuipulotu, Duhan Van Der Merwe, Finn Russell (capt), Ben White; Pierre Schoeman, George Turner, Zander Fagerson, Richie Gray, Scott Cummings, Luke Crosbie, Jamie Ritchie, Matt Fagerson.
Replacements: Ewan Ashman, Alec Hepburn, Elliot Millar-Mills, Sam Skinner, Jack Dempsey, George Horne, Ben Healy, Cam Redpath.