Captain Jamie Ritchie has declared Scotland “in a good place” for the upcoming Six Nations after a promising end to a largely underwhelming 2022.
A year ago, Gregor Townsend’s side went into the tournament amid a blaze of hype, with some touting them as potential title winners after an impressive run of results in the lead-up to it, allied to the fact eight of their players had been deemed good enough to go on the 2021 British and Irish Lions tour.
After grinding out victory at home to England in the opener, however, the Scots fell flat, losing their next three games – away to Wales, home to France and away to Ireland – without showing anything like the type of form many had hoped and expected.
A fourth-place finish in the Six Nations was followed by a summer tour of South America in which they lost two of their three Tests to Argentina.
However, an element of buoyancy returned after an encouraging Autumn Series which brought victories over Fiji and Argentina and two near-misses against the heavyweights of Australia and New Zealand.
The form of the two domestic club teams – Edinburgh with three wins on the spin and Glasgow with seven wins in their last seven – is also a source of encouragement.
“I think we’re in a good place, definitely,” said Ritchie as he prepares to lead Scotland into a Six Nations for the first time following his appointment as skipper in the autumn. “Both club teams are in good form and the guys who play away from Scotland are playing well as well.
“We take confidence from the games in the autumn. A couple of them didn’t go our way but I think in all four games we were probably the better team for the majority of them.
“We let the Australia game slip, and the New Zealand one as well but we’re in a good place as a squad and looking forward to the campaign.”
The fixture list can also be deemed a positive for Scotland. They have the advantage of three home games this year and will fancy their chances of beating Wales and Italy at BT Murrayfield while also giving the Irish a far sterner test than they generally tend to do in Dublin.
In addition, there is no reason for the usual sense of trepidation when they travel to Twickenham or Stade de France because they have memories of victory from their last visits to both venues two years ago. The Scots have shown in recent times they can hold their nerve in the key moments of tight matches.
“Big away wins are built on defence and that’s something that’s been a strength of ours over the last few seasons,” said Ritchie. “I think we got that right at Twickenham the last time.
“We controlled the territory well, kicked really well so things like that, and taking your opportunities, are really important because games are decided by very small margins at this level. When you get opportunities you’ve got to make sure you take them.”
The absence of burgeoning winger Darcy Graham through injury is a big blow to Townsend but that is offset slightly by the return to international prominence of Finn Russell.
The stand-off fell foul of Townsend in the last Six Nations for breaking team protocols when he went on a night out in Edinburgh and, after being benched in Dublin, was subsequently left out of the initial squad for the autumn internationals amid the head coach’s concerns about his form.
When he was recalled for the last two games against New Zealand and Argentina, the 30-year-old reminded everyone how valuable he is to Scotland’s prospects of challenging at the top of the section.
At the onset of a World Cup year, the Scots’ talisman appears to be feeling the love of his team-mates and his head coach.
“Finn’s a great person to have around and for us all to learn off,” said Ritchie. “He’s a great guy for us to have around the squad and we love him to bits.”