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Scotland walking the 500 miles to respectability

Hamish Watson of Scotland during the NatWest Six Nations match between Scotland and France at Murrayfield on February 11, 2018 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Lynne Cameron/Getty Images)
Roar Guru
22nd February, 2018
25

Scotland is a land of stunning natural beauty, indecipherable accents, some of the best sporting and live music crowds in the world, out of control binge-drinkers, funny bastards, serial rugby under-achievement, and of course, deep fried mars bars.

The sugar-hit of the Scots barnstorming displays in the Autumn Internationals instantly wore off the moment Gareth Davies began Wales shellacking against them three weeks ago, but the looming spectre of England rumbling up the A1 and over Hadrian’s Wall has once again ignited the alien sensation of quiet Scottish optimism.

Beating the Auld Enemy in anything is arguably the best feeling in the world for Scottish people, closely followed by the first Buckfast of the morning or possibly the one day of the year the sun appears that far North.

It hasn’t happened in rugby since 2008, but this ain’t your granddad’s, dad’s or even slightly older brother’s Scotland team – the incessantly negative disposition has been shed, and they play all the better for it.

At this point I am contractually obliged to invoke the stereotype of the dour, tight-fisted, angry Scotsman, the embodiment of which I had the pleasure of interacting with at a German airport a few years ago (he’s the only one – most Scots are legends), and until ‘Stern’ Vern Cotters appointment in 2014, dour was definitely the word used to describe their rugby.

Under the Kiwi coach Scotland improved drastically in the attacking stakes, and their 2015 World Cup run, which ended in entirely non-controversial and polite circumstances, lit the fire for more success and elevated standards, whilr also permanently etching Greg Laidlaw’s “who farted?” expression on his face ever since.

2017 was a breakthrough year for Scottish Rugby, with a 100 per cent home record in the Six Nations being followed up by home and away wins against Australia and coming agonisingly close to breaking their duck against New Zealand at Murrayfield.

The current crop of players is as exciting as anyone can remember, with the likes of the thrilling Stuart Hogg, the mercurial Finn Russell, Sean “Quade’s cousin” Maitland and Huw Jones complemented well by Hamish Watson, John Barclay and the Gray brothers in the forwards.

The last two encounters Scotland have entered with a modicum of expectation, against England at Twickenham last year and Wales in Cardiff this year, have ended in chastening floggings, so one expects coach Gregor Townsend to have minds focussed and distractions at a minimum.

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One thing that we have seen in the past with burgeoning so-called “golden generations” in sport is the over-inflation of ego too soon, and the subject of the murmurs of discontent aimed at Finn Russell this year appear to be in that mould, with his apparent huge signing bonus from Racing 92 and at times bizarre performance against France fuelling this image.

Of course there is a guaranteed way to help stop this perception – beating England and putting in an assured display without sacrificing his natural flair.

The Scottish Football team almost pulled off a victory for the ages against England in World Cup qualifying last year, only to revert to type and concede with the last kick of the game.

This Saturday will be tough, but not insurmountable, and with a typically brisk Edinburgh day forecast, conditions will be perfect for a titanic struggle between these best of enemies.

(As an aside, look at this list of musical artists from Scotland and tell me they aren’t one of the great over-achievers of the music world: Eurythmics, Simple Minds, The Proclaimers, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Belle & Sebastien, Biffy Clyro, Mogwai, Primal Scream, Franz Ferdinand, Cocteau Twins, Edwyn Collins, Teenage Fanclub, Calvin Harris, Travis, Paolo Nutini, Texas, Donovan, Django Django and Bay City Rollers.)