State of the Nation: Same-old Scotland struggle to show ‘killer edge’ and ‘tangible growth’ in mixed-bag Six Nations

Dylan Coetzee
Scotland players after a try against Ireland.

Scotland players after a try against Ireland.

With another fascinating Six Nations now done and dusted, we update you on the state of the participating nations, next up Gregor Townsend’s Scotland.

Reviewing Scotland’s 2024 campaign feels much like a rewrite with the same old themes hidden in different words as the rugby world tries to make sense of a tournament filled with such highs and deep lows.

For the fans, the frustration must be incredibly infuriating to follow a team that has grown and developed so much but has nothing tangible really to show for it. Such is the consequence of sport measuring success through trophies hoisted and medals on the mantelpiece.

Of course, there is much to celebrate in the way of crucial wins and the realisation that they could be title contenders, but it is that same ‘could be’ that leaves the situation filled with more agony than joy.

Tournament summary

Whatever the state of Welsh rugby it is still incredibly difficult to travel to Cardiff with the roof of the Principality Stadium closed and come away with a result. Head coach Townsend would have been pleased with a win of any kind and that is what he got with a narrow 26-27 win that was only made close by perhaps a bit of complacency after a strong first half.

Then the drama came against France, where a late and very controversial disallowed try robbed the Scots of a memorable win at Murrayfield. Instead of crumbling, the side channelled their emotions into the Calcutta Cup clash with England, which paid off magnificently as easily their best performance of the tournament with Duhan van der Merwe running riot as he tends to against England.

From then on the Scots would go winless after well and truly dropping the ball against a passionate Italian side before a clash against Ireland that was further from a win than the score suggested.

Ultimately, it was a bit up and over and just about everywhere as far as results went.

Six Nations stats leaders: Italy captain Michele Lamaro smashes all-time record in passionate campaign

Standout players

A more mature Finn Russell donned the Scotland blue this year as one of the co-captains. During the game, he was equally audacious as before, but his intensity around marshalling his teammates had grown. So did his goal-kicking which was outstanding throughout. Perhaps the main negative of Russell is the team’s reliance on him to break the game open and the lack of effective fallback for when he is shut down. It is a very interesting period for the Bath pivot coming up and we could see the most complete version of him to come.

Pure attacking lines is one of the most apt ways to describe Huw Jones’ game as he always seems to find a way to bust through the line often from a flat Russell pass or a Sione Tuipulotu short ball. His try against Ireland shows he potent he can be in space. Jones is a key component of this side and should be kept close if Scotland are to grow further.

Duhan van der Merwe has always been described as a game breaker and that’s exactly what he showed against England yet again. When he is firing, there is not much defenders and the systems they work in can do about him. There is massive power in that, but it would be useful for Scotland to think of ways to get him more into the game when he is being watched closely. Whether it is a strike play with him coming off the wing or having him pop up in the middle more often, getting his hands on the ball more is never a bad thing.

Meanwhile, Andy Christie was a lovely find towards the latter stage, starting the last two games and producing a gladiatorial effort in the last with a whopping 28 tackles and very nearly a charge-down try at a crucial moment. He adds a robust and tireless edge to Scotland and perhaps could be key to extra gains for the team.

Success story

Heading into the last round of the championship with a shot at a Triple Crown will be a positive feeling for the side, but their success story for the 2024 Six Nations is two-fold: is the Calcutta Cup win and backline depth

It is the oldest rivalry between England and Scotland in Test rugby, with the Scots having dominated in recent years. Coming into the 2024 battle was interesting as England had a brilliant Rugby World Cup and Scotland did not, Townsend’s men also had just come off the controversial loss to France so there was certainly no way around how the players would respond. Huge credit to the side as they dialled in and put together a brilliant performance, and it is the big games where big players stand up, and that’s what Van der Merwe did brilliantly. There is no Six Nations title heading home but to have one over the Auld Enemy is enough to realise the positive progress.

Outside of that is their backline depth. Their wing options are outstanding, from Van der Merwe to Kyle Steyn to Kyle Rowe, before you even get to considering the injured Darcy Graham. Then, in the centre, Jones and Tuipulotu lead the way ahead of the capable duo of Stafford McDowall and Cameron Redpath. At 10, Russell is the obvious choice, but Ben Healy on the bench is certainly no train smash whilst at scrum-half Ben White has been brilliant but there is still Ali Price and George Horne to consider.

Main regret

With absolute respect to Italy who had a magnificent campaign, Scotland’s biggest regret will be that they did not close out a game they could have won against the Azzurri.

Linked to the loss and for whatever reason it may be, Scotland struggles to offer the kind of ruthless edge that is required for winning tight games and, ultimately, titles. The side has grown brilliantly to get in the right positions to win big games, but the next step is to kill teams off. Against Wales, this also showed they failed to double down on a good first half, almost losing the game in the process.

It has been said before that this team is close, but they need to find their killer edge to challenge for the title.


Wales v Scotland (won 26-27)
Scotland v France (lost 16-20)
Scotland v England (won 30-21)
Italy v Scotland (lost 31-29)
Ireland v Scotland (lost 17-13)

READ MORE: Six Nations Team of the Tournament: Ireland and Italy lead the way as one country misses out