You would have got generous odds before the kick-off six and a bit weeks ago on Scotland remaining in the World Cup longer than New Zealand. On the night World Cup fever spilled on to the streets of Paris, in the wake of the unlikely French victory against the All Blacks in Cardiff, there were Caledonians partying with locals on the Champs-Elysées, jumping on car bonnets and performing hakas. Sadly for them, the carnival was over 24 hours later, Scotland's World Cup challenge coming to an end in the last match on quarter-final weekend.
It might have been different had Frank Hadden's side sussed just a little bit earlier that the Argentinian machine was running out of steam at the Stade de France. As it was, the Pumas clawed through to the semi-finals, 19-13 – and Scotland headed homeward, not so much to think again as to ponder what might have been.
Still, it was "mission accomplished" for Hadden and his squad. They hit their pre-tournament target of reaching the last eight – a benchmark that Ireland and Wales lamentably failed to achieve. Scotland remain the only Celtic nation to have made it to the quarter-finals of every World Cup.
With the All Blacks drawn in Scotland's pool, and with Hadden taking his contentious decision not to contest the Murrayfield match against them with his first-choice XV, success or failure was always going to come down to the 80 minutes against Italy in Saint-Etienne. And Scotland managed to succeed. True, it was desperately close and it was far from pretty, but that was irrelevant. Victory was all that mattered and Scotland claimed it, 18-16.
They did so thanks to Chris Paterson's trusty right boot. Their left wing finished with 17 successful place-kicks out of 17 for the tournament. For two years now, Paterson has been the most proficient boot boy in world rugby. His goal-kicking has become the biggest ace that Hadden has to play from the limited hand at his disposal.
Scotland are far from a one-kick pony but, as their coach would be the first to admit, their resources are strictly limited. There are 10,000 registered senior players in Scottish rugby. Of the 20 countries which played in the 2007 World Cup, only three have less: Portugal, Romania and Georgia. For all of their rich rugby history and tradition, Scotland are having to punch above their weight to keep in the global top-eight. They have succeeded in doing so this time thanks in no small measure to the structure and maximising of talent that Hadden has brought to the national side.
"We've made progress," Hadden said. "We've bulked up physically, which was absolutely essential for this competition. We've unearthed some young fellows. We're a young side which definitely needs to mature. I said after the Argentina game that the quality of some of our decision-making wasn't quite mature enough. But I think some of these young fellows, with a bit of opportunity, will learn from this experience.
"We always wondered whether they were going to be able to cope with the intensity of this competition at that age and the answer is: not quite. But that doesn't mean to say that this side hasn't got a future, because I believe in this side. I think that they've done enough to convince the fans that we have a chance over the next two or three years."
Hadden, it seems, will be central to that future development. His contract only ran until the end of the tournament, though Gordon McKie, chief executive of the Scottish Rugby Union, has been at pains to stress that negotiations are in hand to keep the former Edinburgh coach at Murrayfield.
Hadden has the backing of his players. "Frank has been good for us," Jason White, the totemic captain, said. "He's a good coach. We've definitely improved under him. I think we have all worked well together and I'm enthusiastic about it continuing."Reuse content