In 1999, Scotland captured the final Five Nations title. As the new millennium dawned, they were in a good position.
Italy joined Europe’s premier rugby competition in 2000, and it was believed that the Scots would push on and challenge for more titles.
Since then, they have perennially flattered to deceive, dueling with the Azzurri at the foot of the table rather than competing for honours.
Yes, there have been isolated results here and there, be it over Southern Hemisphere opponents in wet November afternoons at Murrayfield or in the Six Nations itself. Yet invariably it all leads to one end result.
Last Autumn, the Scots did exactly what was expected of them in the World Cup; nothing more, nothing less. They got past a tricky Samoan team to place second in the group behind South Africa, before bowing out to Australia.
Yes, they pushed the Wallabies all the way, but so what? They are always likely to come up with one big performance here and there.
The fact of the matter is that they fell short.
That has become a constant over the last 16 years. They were commended for their World Cup showing. But why?
It is time to stop being satisfied with the tag of ‘Brave Scotland’, and finally deliver results.
With a new World Cup cycle comes a clean slate. It is time to reinvent themselves. This Saturday brings the perfect opportunity to do so.
England travel to Edinburgh on Saturday licking their wounds from a disastrous World Cup campaign. With Eddie Jones at the helm, they will a different proposition, but it is a game Scotland need to win if they are to be taken seriously. What better way to start afresh than to beat the ‘Old Enemy’ at Murrayfield?
Vern Cotter’s reign has had its positives, but the fact remains that they have not produced results, despite near misses against New Zealand and Australia.
However, there are the bones of a strong team there.
In WP Nel they have a cornerstone to a solid scrum. The Gray brothers are as good a pairing at second row as anywhere in Europe.
John Hardie is a key acquisition.
The New Zealand born flanker was a revelation in the World Cup, and can get through a ferocious amount of work around the park.
If one thing is clear from Warren Gatland’s announcement of Wales’ side today, it is that this championship will be won and lost at the breakdown. In Hardie, Cotter has a man who can ensure the Scots will hold their own in this department.
Finn Russell is growing in stature by the season, and looks at his best beside Greig Laidlaw. The half-back pairing is in good shape ahead of the opener, while the returning Mark Bennett will want to build his growing reputation even further.
All in all, this is an exciting team, but they need to learn how to win games. This has been the one flaw. The majority of this squad won the Pro12 last year with Glasgow Warriors, and this ought to stand to them.
When this writer asked Cotter at last week’s Six Nations launch how they can finally close games out, the Kiwi did not offer anything concrete.
“It’s been a mixed bag. Remaining focused and keeping cool heads [is the key].
“The strength and conditioning guys are doing what they can, but it comes down to a little bit of maturity, experience and understanding, and knowing that games are won and lost on the bounce of the ball.”
This is not a slight on the Kiwi coach, as he has done a good job up to this point, but for Scotland’s sake one would hope they have actually changed things up, rather than simply spit out a series of clichés and hope the questions go away.
Laidlaw was a bit more optimistic than his coach, and reaffirmed the importance of Saturday evening.
“Looking back, we’ve never started a tournament well, and put ourselves under pressure.
“We need to concentrate on getting simple things done well, and start with a big performance.
“We just want to make Murrayfield not a nice place for teams to come and play.”
Last year, their Six Nations campaign ran out of momentum. They suffered narrow losses to France, Wales and Italy before capitulating against England and Ireland.
If they are to succeed this year, they need the perfect start. That needs to come against England this Saturday, which would set the tone for the next four years and deliver a statement that they will not be pushed around any longer.
Can they win this weekend? Absolutely. Will they win? Only the squad know at this point.