Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner. Facebook Messenger An icon of the facebook messenger app logo. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Facebook Messenger An icon of the Twitter app logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. WhatsApp Messenger An icon of the Whatsapp messenger app logo. Email An icon of an mail envelope. Copy link A decentered black square over a white square.

THE BREAKDOWN, STEVE SCOTT: Scotland fans’ optimism for Six Nations 2023 is contrary to the evidence

Finn Russell's exhibition against Argentina re-set Scottish optimism for 2023.
Finn Russell's exhibition against Argentina re-set Scottish optimism for 2023.

It doesn’t take much to make your typical Scottish rugby fan awash with optimism ahead of a Guinness Six Nations.

Even after a fairly nondescript 5-win-from-12 year in 2022. Just a flurry of Finnsanity against a knackered Argentina at the end of November is enough to turn many of us glassy-eyed with hope.

My annual habit – nay, duty – is to pour cold water on all of that. Far from a championship, even some distance from the ‘bottom-line’ of three wins for the 2023 set by many, I think Scotland are looking at two wins this Six Nations.

And neither of those is remotely a given.


We start with England on Saturday. Yes, Scotland’s record against the Auld Enemy with Gregor Townsend as head coach and Russell at the creative helm is outstanding. Even when they’ve not always been on the same page.

For 30 years or more against England, veteran observers like your correspondent were chastened to a succession of dispiriting defeats and humble pie.

The last half-decade has been delicious gravy. We’ve loved it. Even the one recent defeat, in 2020, was actually a disappointment.

Also, England are in flux. Eddie Jones’s careful plan has been ripped up. Steve Borthwick is in to deliver old-school pragmatism. At least some of this seems dubious – 34-year-old Dan Cole the solution to England’s scrum issues? Okay…

But the English always do pretty decently with a new coach bounce. It was true of their last two head coaches, Stuart Lancaster, and of course for Eddie.

He won a Grand Slam after England’s humiliation at their home World Cup of 2015 supposedly had them in disarray.

The intimidating 82,000 braying at Twickenham hasn’t been helpful for England in recent times. But they were inured to modest returns.

You suspect they will lift the team now Eddie, who they never warmed to, has gone. On Saturday I take a narrow English win.

Ireland and France

Ireland and France are the top two teams in the world, entirely on merit. I have an inkling that France might be vulnerable this spring, as they were in parts during the autumn.

Gregor Townsend is fond of saying that there is no development in the Six Nations. For France, especially this year, there definitely is.

Last year’s Grand Slam means one this year is not immediately pressing. The World Cup in their homeland is unquestionably their target.

Despite having clearly the most talented team in the championship, they may have their eye off the ball or do some tinkering.

But France can tinker and still be the best team on any given day. And they were light years ahead of Scotland when they met in 2022.

For Ireland, it’s foot to the floor in 2023, all the way. I saw one – occasionally hysterical – pundit this week suggest that anything other than a Slam was “drastic underachievement”.

The Irish quite patently rely on the ageing bones of Jonny Sexton far too much. That could become a major issue, and their patented World Cup Year Slump might well come.

But not when it comes to Scotland. Seriously, I hear several usually sage voices suggesting Scotland will beat Ireland on the penultimate weekend. But where, please, is there any evidence for this?

Sexton has NOT been the key

Sexton may well be absent injured by the time we get to March. But he’s not been the crucial difference in Scotland-Ireland contests of late – indeed, far from it.

In Murrayfield meetings under Townsend, Joey Carberry played most of the 2019 game Ireland won. In the Covid game of `21, Sexton played well, but the difference in a tight game was Ireland’s evisceration of Scotland’s lineout.

In EVERY game since 2017, Ireland’s incredibly-drilled setpiece and rock-solid discipline has forced Scotland to give away armfuls of penalties.

That’s been absolutely the key element of Irish dominance, and there’s no sign anything has changed. Indeed, if anything, Ireland are even better drilled and disciplined than they were a year ago, and Scotland are just as flagrant with their discipline.

We’ve said before that Scotland’s progress in 2023 goes directly through two games with Ireland, in the Six Nations and the World Cup. I still see nothing at all to lend any optimism toward either.

Wales and Italy

Scotland’s two wins this year should come against Wales and Italy at Murrayfield. I wouldn’t bet the house on either, though.

Wales have reinstalled Warren Gatland, which should but the wind up Scotland. They’ve never beaten a Gat-piloted Welsh team.

He’s gone back to his tried and tested stalwarts for at least the first game. Gatland has always managed to get more out of players than any other coach.

Wales should be better than under Wayne Pivac. But still, it wasn’t really the coaching that was the issue with them.

Scotland’s loss in Cardiff was their worst performance of 2022. Against a reeling Welsh side dismantled in Dublin, it shouldn’t have even been close. Nothing less than a win next week will suffice.

Italy are much better than they were on their last Murrayfield visit, but that’s an exceedingly low bar. Townsend tinkered with Stuart Hogg at 10 and they still scored 50 points.

Last year in Rome a late flurry inspired by new star Ange Capuzzo made it a lot closer than it really was.

I don’t think anyone’s going to be taking any selectorial chances with Italy anymore, and they’ll be competitive.

The Scots will have huge incentive to win decisively on March 17, no matter what state they get there in. Only complacency (definitely not out of the question) or an epochal injury situation gives any concern here.