When Duncan Weir dropped that goal in the Stadio Olimpico to lift Scotland out of the wooden spoon spot last year by the skin of his bootlaces, the idea that they might cast a shadow on the Six Nations big dogs a year on was laughable.
Enter Big Vern Cotter. The appointment of the Kiwi coach, following a successful period in France with Clermont, changed the landscape and the mood.
It is 16 years since the Scots last bested the northern hemisphere’s winter carnival in the last rendition of the Five Nations. Since Italy’s inclusion in 2000, Scotland have taken the spoon home three times. It has taken a foreigner not only to introduce new thinking but to remind Scotland what rugby means to the nation and what Scotland means to this tournament.
Rousing victories over Argentina and Tonga during the autumn internationals plus a morale-boosting, lung-bursting effort against the mighty All Blacks lit flares north of the border. Into the last 10 minutes, with the score at 16-17, Scotland had a kick at goal to take the lead. Captain Greig Laidlaw pulled the shot across the posts and New Zealand did what they do best, crashed across the try line at the other end for a 24-16 win.
Heartbreak, but not devastation. In 80 minutes at Murrayfield, Scotland had rediscovered their pride and head to Paris this weekend believing an upset is on.
Cotter has reinvigorated the squad, omitting some hefty names and bringing in four new caps, including 22-year-old flanker Hugh Blake, who shares a New Zealand birth certificate and now an international affiliation with the coach. The former Scotland and Lions coach Sir Ian McGeechan is one of many with soaring hopes.
“One thing they have shown in the autumn is an attacking force – they have been very positive,” McGeechan said. “Vern Cotter has done an outstanding job in a relatively short space of time. He has put a game in front of them that suits the Scottish approach and there is a confidence that has come out of that.”Reuse content