My regular Twitter followers will have noticed a distinct ceasefire between myself and the @RugbySco account this year, largely due to the fact that I think Scotland are about to turn a corner.
As I've previously said on the blog, I never bought in to the "Scotland had an amazing World Cup" line of thinking, they outplayed an exhausted Japan and scraped past Samoa with a controversial try. Their performance against Australia, however, was a glimpse of what they could be capable of. Vern Cotter has instilled something intangible around the squad that has improved them massively over the last two seasons, the defense is getting there, the attack is getting there, it just hasn't quite all clicked at the same time.
Scotland (at the time of writing) are on a 9 match losing streak in the 6 nations, but face Italy this weekend in what many will consider a Wooden Spoon shoot out, but Scotland have put up some real fight in their opening two matches, suffering narrow defeats to England and Wales, which has made my prediction of Scotland finishing second look highly unlikely, but arguably, Scotland have the two toughest matches behind them now. Similar high level performances against injury hit Ireland, Flaky France and Inconsistent Italy would end the tournament with Scotland on 6 points, and a likely 3rd place finish. That would be a succesful season for the boys in blue and a great platform for the next 12 months.
Scotland will look to build on the tight 5, with the increasingly impressive Dickinson, Ford, Nel front row (and hope that Ford's lineout throws improve) and the engine room grunt of the Gray brothers. The back row is possibly a weak area at the moment, as despite some cracking players to choose from they don't quite seem to be able to dominate games.
In the backs, Greig Laidlaw is a natural leader and when he's in range of goal, is a deadly kicker, and marshalling the impressive backs outside him comes on instinct. In Finn Russell, Scotland have found a fly half that can throw the X factor breaks into his solid all round game. He actually reminds me a little of Dan Biggar, a dependable player who may well be about to blossom into a top level international 10. The likes of Taylor, Bennett and Scott in the center all have the ability to stand firm in defence and then unlock the opposition at a moments notice and in the back 3, Hogg and Seymour are both world class performers, although the other third of the back 3 is more up in the air, Maitland is superb, but injured, Lamont is simply not in the same class as any of the other 3 mentioned and Tim Visser (or Turnstile Tim) is inconsistent but a great finisher when he gets a chance.
Scotland should win in Italy, last season's defeat will be a reminder in itself that it's no game to be taken lightly, but in reality, it should be a comfortable victory for Scotland. Italy proved against France that they are capable of competing on their day, and Scotland at home will be a game they will doubtlessly be up for, but if the Scots can close down the Italian go to guy, Parisse, it will nullify the spirit of Italy, leaving Scotland to come on strong later in the match.
Scotlands current winless 6 nations streak is the second worst they've ever had, but you'd need to rewind 65 years to find a worse run, which was a streak of 15 games without a win, Cotter's men will be desperate to stop the rot now. 6 of these losses in the current run have been close run things, less than 7 points, 1 was a hammering by Wales after an early red card (and some poorly timed yellows) against Wales, the basis for the winning formula is in place, they just need to break this streak and have the belief that they can actually win. Success breeds success. I'm not sure it's in the Scottish locker to be a dominant force, but I do believe that they would be able to reach a level of competitiveness that would bring them championship wins.
The first step is this weekend, and whereas the fact I'm an Englishman means I'll be pulling for an Italian win, there will be a part of me holding out for the long overdue Scottish revolution.