Could the Scots expansive style take them all the way to the Rugby World Cup final?
When former Scotland and British and Irish Lions flyhalf Gregor Townsend took over the national team just 14 months ago – hopes were not high.
Well how wrong we all were – or how wrong Townsend has proved us.
Freeing the side from the rigid discipline of Cotter’s style the Scots showed they were nowhere near reaching their potential.
They beat their Rugby World Cup vanquishers Australia twice – once at home and once away, as well as notching up wins over Argentina, France and best of all England – 25-13 in the Six Nations in February : a win that could be heard all the way back at Twickenham.
But even more than the results was the thrilling style of rugby Scotland played to achieve it.
As Opta Jonny have revealed Scotland have averaged 3.9 tries per game under Townsend (55 tries, 14 games).
The only Tier 1 team to have a better average than that are the double reigning World Champions – the All Blacks with 5.1. And they are well – the All Blacks.
Speaking of the All Blacks, the Scots even gave them a run for their money going down narrowly 22-17 at Murrayfield in November 2017 with Mr X-Factor himself, Stuart Hogg, even going close to winning it late on.
The Scots have long been the poor cousins of the Home Nations – a quartet they make up with Ireland, England and Wales.
That trio have all enjoyed Six Nations success in the last six years but the last time Scotland raised the famous trophy was back in the last century, 1999 – when it was still known as the Five Nations, as Italy were yet to join.
Along with the lack of success has been a reputation of dour rugby, keeping it tight and simple, in the fear that if they tried to be expansive it would come back to bite them.
That was Cotter’s recipe for success – and certainly results did improve under his reign – as the Scots played with a lot of passion and a little skill to if not win, then at least keep it close.
But all that has changed under Townsend who has given his squad one magic quality – belief.
The Scots now play in an expansive style with a skill level that is at times breath taking, almost All Blacks like.
It was a style that Townsend developed at Glasgow Warriors from 2012 to 2017 and it brought some success as they were runners up in the 2013-14 PRO12 and champions the next year for the first time in their history.
It was considered that Townsend would be brave but stupid to continue the same game plan at national level but the flyhalf decided to throw caution to the highland breeze.
If Scotland were to win – they would win his way – and in large parts he has been successful.
There have been setbacks – the shock loss to the USA in Houston in June and the 34-7 humbling by Wales in this year’s Six Nations – but overall the positives have outweighed the negatives, hence Townsend’s recently announced contract extension through to 2021.
The big tests now lie ahead for Townsend and his team – a Six Nations campaign early next year, then the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan where they face a tricky Pool A with Ireland, Japan, Russia and Samoa.
Win or come second in that group and they then face a quarter final most likely against the Springboks or All Blacks.
Scottish fans, who count JK Rowling among their number (check out her frenetic Tweets when Scotland next take the field), will already be dreaming of a famous victory in the last eight and a dream-like semi-final in Yokohama.
You can scoff but the bonny Scots could well prove to be the Croatia of Rugby World Cup 2019 and a first ever final appearance is certainly not beyond Townsend’s entertaining bunch.