Six Nations 2023: could this be the year that Scotland finally mount a serious title challenge?

Gregor Townsend’s team may have established a strangle hold on the Calcutta Cup but this group of players is capable of so much more.

We’ve been here before right? Less than a year ago in fact. Scotland win their opening game of the Six Nations Championship in sensational style and a nation dares to dream of even greater success.

It’s hard to put into words, as a Scotland fan, the soul crushing feeling as the full time whistle went in Cardiff last year after 80 minutes of having the hope slowly sucked out of you. It was like sitting through a funeral service, each Dan Biggar penalty slotted between the sticks like a hymn as Scotland’s 2022 title challenge slowly descended into the ground. There hasn’t been much cause for hope in our proud wee country over the past two decades of Rugby’s Greatest Championship and in some ways that might have been for the best. Like fans of more than one Scottish sports teams are quite sick of saying at this stage, it’s the hope that kills you.

Fast forward one year and here we are again, the Calcutta Cup is staying north of the border and Scotland’s brave warriors are staring down a wounded Welsh dragon. The weight of expectation weighs heavily on the shoulders of all Scots, we wear the badge of the perennial underdogs with pride and the ‘favourite’ tag has never suited us. That mentality has allowed for some fantastic memories in recent years but it’s now well and truly time to emerge from the shadows and be contenders - less Rocky and more Rocky II.

Scotland retained the Calcutta Cup last weekend but a nation is hungry for more
Scotland retained the Calcutta Cup last weekend but a nation is hungry for more
Scotland retained the Calcutta Cup last weekend but a nation is hungry for more

The current crop of Scotland stars has eight British & Irish Lions from the most recent tour amongst their ranks and enough strength in depth that Gregor Townsend can sit two of them out by choice with another three unavailable through injury or a lack of Test match fitness and still win at Twickenham. Players are being picked on form rather than reputation and that could be the first ingredient in a recipe for Scottish success this year. The question now is, what does success actually look like for the Scots?

Winning the 2023 Six Nations Championship? It’s not that far-fetched an idea but would involve beating at least one, if not both of the two best teams in the world at the moment with one of those matches coming in the hair-raising Stade de France atmosphere. Then there’s the small matter of the number one team in the world, Ireland, visiting Murrayfield having won 11 of the last 12 meetings of the two nations including six in a row since 2017.

What success looks like for Scotland starts this weekend when Wales visit Edinburgh. You have to earn the right to be contenders in this tournament and that doesn’t come from winning just one match, regardless how big a win it might be. The victory at Twickenham is like finding the treasure map but the hard work starts now in avoiding their first potential pitfall on the road to glory. Scotland’s entire Six Nations campaign hangs in the balance this weekend.

Beating Wales sets up at least one thing for sure, Scotland would have the chance to win the Triple Crown when Ireland come to Murrayfield - a trophy they have not lifted since 1990 and have only had one shot at since five became six in 2000 which ended with a humiliating 61-21 defeat at Twickenham after beating Wales and Ireland earlier in the tournament. If the title does prove to be a step too far then the Triple Crown would be a fantastic prize that would serve as far more than just a consolation after so many years in the wilderness.

With the World Cup coming up later this year and the Scots drawn in the group alongside Ireland and South Africa then another mark of success would be pushing both France and Ireland all the way in those matches. Contenders are competitive and being brushed aside by either of the tournament favourites with ease, particularly Ireland on home soil, could be the death knell of Scotland’s confidence when these players will need to put in the performance of their life to beat either the reigning world champions or top ranked team in France.

Let’s take a step back though, there’s no point in looking seven months down the line to the World Cup or even three weeks ahead to the France game. It’s all about this weekend in Wales and exorcising the ghosts of Cardiff 2022 for Scotland - that’s the next job and it’s the only one that matters right now. This absolutely can be the year that Scotland mount a credible challenge for the Six Nations title and they do that with another powerful performance to unify the hopes of the nation in front of a sold out Murrayfield Stadium to a resounding chorus of Flower of Scotland.