State of the Nation: Scotland

Date published: November 5 2015

As we do at the end of a major tournament, we look at the state of affairs in each of the competing nations. Next up, Scotland!

Scotland are probably still coming to terms with that late penalty conceded against Australia that ended up seeing them knocked out of the World Cup at the quarter-final stage.

This was an improvement on 2011, when they went out in the pools for the first time, and there were a lot of reasons for optimism from this tournament.

While the Wallabies were probably the better side in the last eight clash, Scotland showed their opportunism to lead with five minutes remaining before Craig Joubert controversially penalised Jon Welsh for catching a ball in an offside position.

Earlier in the game WP Nel had shown his scrummaging ability as he dismantled the much-vaunted Wallaby set-piece, giving Scotland a solid platform which they have lacked for so long.

Despite the injury-enforced absence of Alex Dunbar, Mark Bennett was able to shine in midfield, and going forward he, Dunbar, Peter Horne and Matt Scott offer plenty of options to Vern Cotter.

In Finn Russell they look to have a fly-half capable of matching the northern hemisphere’s best, while Stuart Hogg remains incredibly dangerous from full-back, even if his diving efforts earned him a stern rebuke from Nigel Owens in the pool clash with South Africa.

Add in World Player of the Year nominee Greig Laidlaw, and things are looking good for the Scots in the backline.

Things are similarly promising up front, where John Hardie stepped straight in and performed in the back-row, while new Glasgow Warriors captain Jonny Gray looks a Lions starter in the making.

The exciting thing about the team is that realistically only Alasdair Dickinson and Ross Ford, of the current first choice line-up, will not be there in four years’ time, so Cotter has plenty to work with.

Of course we’ve said it all before, and Scotland as a dark horse pick seems to be an annual tradition, followed by dispiriting losses early on that end any revival talk.

This could be the year that all changes although they only have two home games in the Six Nations. After ending winless last season, they need a marked improvement, but the young generation coming through and the performances of Glasgow Warriors in the PRO12 give hope for the future.