After a successful Scotland autumn campaign and a rampant Glasgow team in the European Champions Cup, it feels like a change is happening in Scottish rugby.
In a year that has seen Ireland conquer the All Blacks for the first time and England win a first grand slam in 13 years, Scotland must follow suit, build on its excellent foundations and achieve something truly special in 2017.
It’s not been easy for fans of the national team in recent years. Despite an impressive performance against eventual finalists Australia in the quarter-final of the World Cup last November, the men in navy still succumbed to their expected defeat.
In the subsequent Six Nations the side lost their two opening games, meaning they had lost nine consecutive matches in the tournament, their worst since the 1950s. It all seemed a little too typical of the ‘old’ Scotland, the one that permanently seems to be a collection of also-rans.
Yet under Vern Cotter the players were learning to read the game in front of them better and achieving a more expansive game, a style that arguably better suits the strengths of Scottish rugby. Impressive victories over Italy and France followed with Scotland putting six tries on their opponents across the two games.
The Scots continued their improving form with a series win over Japan in the summer before defeating Argentina and Georgia in the autumn, yet once again falling short against Australia. But under Cotter the Scots have been set free of the chains of over-structured play that under Andy Robinson had inhibited their ambitions.
This mirrored the excellent rugby that Glasgow Warriors have been developing under the tutelage of legendary player-turned-coach Gregor Townsend.
As well as guiding his squad to third in the Pro 12 in 2013, second in 2014 and winning the Pro 12 title with victory over Munster in the final of 2015, the team currently lie top of their pool in the European Champions Cup this season.
The Warriors have put Leicester Tigers to the sword 42-13 and defeated last year’s finalist Racing 92 home and away 23-7 and 23-14; they are now are in a fantastic position to push for a quarter-final spot for the first time since the 2006-07 season.
— Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) December 19, 2016
With Gregor Townsend set to take over in June 2017 as the successor to Vern Cotter, the national side has a passionate and talented Scottish coach who has transformed the fortunes of his current team.
It’s not just at the highest level as well that things are changing for Scotland either. The U-20s defeated Australia for the first time in the Junior World Championship in Manchester earlier in the year. The Scots put in a superb performance to down their opponents 15-10.
The challenge now is for these victories to stop being one-offs, for Scotland to string together win after win.
With a young player base full of talent, with constantly improving performances at all levels and coherent approach to the game, at last it seems Scotland are on the cusp of something great. Can they finally take that pivotal leap?
Records are meant to be broken and the past needs to be consigned to the history books. Now is the time for Scotland.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena