Paris is no towering obstacle now for Scotland

Victories by club sides over the Channel bring belief that glory of a decade ago can be revived
Click to follow
The Independent Online

To paraphrase one celebrated Welsh voice, might it turn out to be just a little bit of history repeating? We shall see at Murrayfield a week today, when Wales turn up for their opening game in the 10th edition of the Six Nations' Championship, as heavily fancied to win the competition as they were before their opener in the west end of Edinburgh in what was the ultimate Five Nations.

Back in 1999, Wales rolled into town with the Great Redeemer as their coach and great expectations on the shoulders of Graham Henry and his team. They conceded a try from the kick-off, John Leslie snatching the ball from Matthew Robinson to touch down in a championship record time of 10.5sec, and proceeded to fall at the first hurdle 33-20. Scotland went on to win the title courtesy of a dramatic Wales win against England at Wembley, a late Scott Gibbs try and Neil Jenkins' conversion scuppering an expected Red Rose Grand Slam.

Ten years on, there has been much talk north of the border of Scotland's present head coach, Frank Hadden, being blessed with the strongest squad of Caledonians since the country's last championship-winning class, those unlikely laddies who started as 66-1 outsiders. That might well be the case and there have been tangible signs of encouragement, what with the near-miss against the Springboks at Murrayfield in November (a 14-10 defeat that ought to have been a rare victory against the world champions) and with Glasgow's stunner of a Heineken Cup win in Toulouse a fortnight ago. But are the boys of 2009 truly capable of matching the deeds of Leslie, Alan Tait, Gregor Townsend, Gary Armstrong, Tom Smith and Co? Will they be partying like it's 1999?

We shall see. Should they slip up against Wales, which is entirely possible, and then lose in Paris on Saturday week (which is ditto), the Scots could suddenly be scratching around for a victory (or two) to avoid being left clutching the wooden spoon. After all, despite beating England in their penultimate match, last year they only avoided the thing by a points differential of two (finishing second bottom to Italy) and they were bottom of the class the term before that.

It is statistics such as only two wins in two seasons that Scotland need to radically revise in the weeks ahead – and that of just one win on the road in six long years. That was in Rome in 2006. Scotland have not won in Paris since the glorious day when they cut loose at Stade de France in 1999. They have not won at Twickenham, where they finish this campaign, since 1983.

"Getting off to a fast start is obviously important," Hadden said last week. "You need a bit of momentum, but I think the competition could be so tight this year that losing the first game might not make it insurmountable. The important thing is that we get ourselves in a position where we are in the mix on the last Saturday.

"It is really important that both Edinburgh [at Castres] and Glasgow [at Toulouse] have won in France this season. We've got more depth in the squad and more competition for places, and we have every right not to be frightened of going to places like Stade de France and Twickenham."

Another ingredient that has been added to the Scottish mix is that of Townsend. The former stand-off-cum-centre has been drafted into Hadden's coaching team as a leader of the backs. If he can help to mould a midfield of substance – most likely with Phil Godman at fly-half, Graeme Morrison at inside-centre and Ben Cairns atoutside-centre – Scotland could be in business. They already boast a highlyproficient pack, as the Springboks would readily testify, and some potentially potent back-three players.

It is a shame for them that the considerable talents of the luckless Rory Lamont will be absent from the latter department with ankle damage. Then again, his latest misfortune might just ease the problem of how to fit Chris Paterson and his deadly right boot into the 15-man selection equation.

Six Nations fixtures

Sat 7 Feb: England v Italy (3.0); Ireland v France (5.0).

Sun 8 Feb: Scotland v Wales (3.0).

Sat 14 Feb: France v Scotland (3.0); Wales v England (5.30).

Sun 15 Feb: Italy v Ireland (2.30).

Fri 27 Feb: France v Wales (8.0).

Sat 28 Feb: Scotland v Italy (3.0); Ireland v England (5.30).

Sat 14 March: Italy v Wales (3.0); Scotland v Ireland (5.0).

Sun 15 March: England v France (3.0).

Sat 21 March: Italy v France (1.15); England v Scotland (3.30); Wales v Ireland (5.30).

Comments