Stuart Hogg believes Scotland can achieve something “incredibly special” by winning their first Six Nations title on the eve of the 2019 championship.
The full-back – still only 26 but surely set for his 66th cap against Italy on Sunday – is adamant that the Scots are contenders for the title despite being written off by many observers outside their borders.
Scotland have won three games in the last two championships finishing third and fourth but one London publication has them “desperate” to beat perennial wooden spoonists Italy on Saturday to prove that they are not at the same level as the side who last won a Six Nations game in 2015.
“I think we are on the right path to achieve something incredibly special,” said Hogg.
“We have been working really, really hard over the last few years to get to where we are and now we truly believe we can win the Six Nations.
“We are just looking at the first game against Italy on Saturday and making sure we get off to the best possible start. They are a fantastic rugby team who will come to BT Murrayfield and really make it difficult for us.
“Attack-wise we have got to make the most of every opportunity and defence-wise shut them down at the earliest possible stage.
“Look, everybody is excited. We know there is a lot of hard work to be done still but we are ready to rock and roll.”
Hogg’s rationale is that the Scots have proved they are a competitive outfit, having beaten every team in the championship in the last two years, and now is the time to push that to a logical conclusion.
“If you are not saying you are going to win the championship, then what’s the point of being here?” he continued.
“We truly believe we can do it. We are excited about the challenges that are coming our way. We have huge opportunities with three games at BT Murrayfield. Every single game we are going into looking to win.
“If I was to sit here and say we are not going to win the Six Nations, that would be wrong.”
Tight head prop WP Nel will be a cornerstone of Scotland’s campaign and he doesn’t quite believe that he is back to the form he was in before an eight-month spell out with a neck injury in 2017.
“In the autumn tests i was asked `Will I ever be as good as that?’ but I don’t know how you measure,” he said. “I’m told Cockers (Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill) has said he’s seeing the player he was told about before he came, and if he sees that in me then i am happy and I hope I can push on with what i am doing and get better.
“Any player has weaknesses. There are certain places I need to improve.”
Almost a year out of competitive rugby, Nel still feels like he’s “catching up”.
“You need to get confidence after such a long injury,” he said. “I must say I’m not a guy who really thinks about things that much.
“If I’m going in, I’m going in 100 per cent going on every ball. I think that is what rugby is about. You can’t let the subconscious dictate otherwise you will miss a tackle or not be 100 per cent on your game.”