Scotland: Hadden's men must broaden horizonsto enjoy renaissance

Murrayfield can be turned into a fortress but Scots have to improve on the road
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The Independent Online

It was the morning after the night before and Scotland's World Cup squad were trooping dejectedly into Terminal Three at Charles de Gaulle Airport, north of Paris. Twelve hours on from their quarter-final exit, Frank Hadden and his squad were kicking themselves about what might have been against an Argentina team who ran out of steam against them in the Stade de France but held out for a 19-13 victory.

Amid the frustration, there was a steely resolve to make up for what might have been with a challenge not just for respectability or the odd scalp but for the main prize itself when the Six Nations came around.

"We've got to fancy our chances in the Six Nations," head coach Hadden ventured. "There is certainly nothing for us to be frightened of." Jason White concurred. "We're capable of doing it," said Scotland's captain and back-row battering ram. "We need to start well and we need to play well at home, but to win a championship you have to have good form on the road and we've only beaten Italy away recently. So it's a big ask to win in Ireland, in Wales and at Twickenham."

Fortunately for the Scots and their totemic team leader, the final leg of their 2008 championship schedule takes them to the Stadio Flaminio in Rome, where they won on their last visit, in 2006, and not to Twickenham, where they last won in 1983.

The challenge of digging for an overdue victory at Billy Williams' old cabbage patch can wait for next year, but if Scotland are to build on the progress they have made under Hadden over the past two-and-a-half years and make a serious impression inthis Six Nations campaign, they will have to kick the losing habit they have managed to acquire on the road.

That win against Italy in Rome two years ago was the only Scottish success away from Murrayfield in the past five campaigns. It was a strictly marginal success: a 13-10 win secured by Chris Paterson's 45-yard penalty in the 77th minute.

At the launch of this year's championship in London last week, Hadden said: "Our target is to go for the last game, against Italy, with something to play for." And if Scotland are to have something to play for by the time they get to Rome on 15 March they will need to claim at least one other victory on opposition soil, against Wales or Ireland – probably two.

In 2006, in Hadden's first Six Nations season, the Scots beat France and England and restored Murrayfield to fortress status. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that the ramparts will be manned successfully against the French and English once again, but it is a very big ask.

Still, Caledonian hopes are high that Hadden's troops can get off to a winning start by again catching a far-from-settled France cold in the opening game at Murrayfield next Sunday.

There has been much of an encouraging nature in the 15 weeks since the World Cup –not least the form shown by Edinburgh and Glasgow in the Heineken Cup. They have claimed the scalps of Leicester, Leinster and Biarritz. Edinburgh also managed to outscore the mighty Toulouse at home on the try front, 2-1.

Nick de Luca looked the part that day, side-stepping Yannick Jauzion for one of the scores, and he did again in the win against Leinster, eclipsing another centre of excellence in Brian O'Driscoll.

The 23-year-old outside-entre has made rapid progress under Andy Robinson's tutelage since joining Edinburgh from the now disbanded Border Reivers, and he would appear to be primed for the step up to Test level next weekend.

Rory Lamont's emergence at full-back during the World Cup and a barrowload of back-row options are other reasons for the Scots to be cheerful.

Gregor Townsend, the former Scotland and Lions outside-half and centre, is hugely optimistic, reckoning that Hadden has possibly the best pool of talent at the disposal of a Scotland coach in the professional era.

"I have a strong feeling 2008 will be the renaissance year for Scotland," he said. "The current state of Scottish rugby reminds me of how we were prior to the 1999 Five Nations."

Of course, that was Scotland's last winning season. They got off to a flying start with a John Leslie try after 10 seconds against Wales. If they can get past France in their opener this time, and follow it up with a win in Wales, the Scots might just end up partying like it's 1999 all over again.

Tough start for Scotland as France visit Murrayfield next Sunday at 3pm on BBC1

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