Six Nations 2024 Championship in focus: Will Gregor Townsend’s Scotland finally forge title challenge?

Scotland open their 2024 Six Nations campaign by travelling to face Wales in Cardiff on Saturday February 3 (4.45pm kick-off); below we look at Gregor Townsend’s side in depth, discussing what’s changed, what’s hot, what’s not, their championship record and squad news

Image: Will Gregor Townsend and co-captain Rory Darge lead Scotland to a sustained Six Nations title challenge in 2024?

In 2023, Scotland won their opening two Six Nations fixtures for the first time, but ultimately dropped out of title contention in familiar fashion. Will 2024 be the year they maintain a title run until the final week?

For several years now, Scotland have flattered to deceive, with inconsistency winning out as the firm order of play. For victories in Paris and Twickenham, read defeats to Wales, Ireland and a second consecutive Rugby World Cup pool-stage exit.

Last year, Scotland started like a train to pick up wins away to England and then at home to Wales, only to suffer defeat in Paris and then at home to eventual Grand Slam winners Ireland, finishing third after an edgy final-day win at home to Italy.

In 2024, Scotland do not travel to face Ireland in Dublin until Round 5, and take on France and England at home at Murrayfield. Their opening day trip to face Wales is their best chance to win in Cardiff for decades. If Scotland are going to put a sustained title run together, this is surely the year to do it.

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Here, we take a closer look at how Scotland are shaping up ahead of that opening match against Wales at the Principality Stadium…

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  • Wales – Principality – Saturday February 3 – 4.45pm (GMT)
  • France – Murrayfield – Saturday February 10 – 2.15pm (GMT)
  • England – Murrayfield – Saturday February 24 – 4.45pm (GMT)
  • Italy – Stadio Olimpico – Saturday March 9 – 2.15pm (GMT)
  • Ireland – Aviva Stadium – Saturday March 16 – 4.45pm (GMT)

What’s changed?

Scotland have a new captain ahead of this championship – and actually, they have two as head coach Gregor Townsend has named fly-half Finn Russell and back-row Rory Darge as co-captains, replacing Jamie Ritchie.

Image: The relationship between Finn Russell and Townsend has proven a fractious one over recent times, but the former has been named a Scotland co-captain

Full-back Stuart Hogg has retired from the sport having earned 100 Scotland caps, citing injuries as the reason at the age of just 30.

Head coach Townsend signed a contract extension in May 2023 through to 2026, after a period of speculation during which it was reported he may have departed post the World Cup, while there has been a bit of a coaching shake-up too.

Image: Stuart Hogg has retired since last year's championship aged 30, due to injuries

The departure of Brad Mooar, the former All Blacks attack coach who joined the Scotland set-up last year, was confirmed, with 34-year-old Pete Horne – who played under Townsend at Glasgow and Scotland and coached with Scotland on a short-term contract last year – announced as the new full-time attack coach.

Image: Scotland and former All Blacks attack coach Brad Mooar has departed the set-up

Since last year’s Six Nations Scotland have also endured a second consecutive World Cup pool-stage exit, having lost to South Africa and Ireland in the ‘group of death’.

Having taken so many steps forward, it was a particular blow for Scotland, whose confidence heading into the tournament was high.

What’s hot?

The talent Scotland possess, specifically within their backs, matches the very best in the Six Nations.

Playmaker Russell is now one of the highest paid players in world rugby having moved to Bath from Racing 92 on a reported £1m-a-year contract, and his ability to create verges on unrivalled when he is on song.

Blair Kinghorn has recently moved to Toulouse in the Top 14, and the full-back has gone down a storm in France – his form and confidence will be at an all-time high.

Image: Full-back Blair Kinghorn and fly-half Russell are both superbly talented

Elsewhere, South African-born wings Duhan van der Merwe and Kyle Steyn have proven exceptionally difficult for teams to restrain in terms of try-scoring, while the currently injured Darcy Graham – who should return during the championship – is another superb performer.

Across midfield, Scotland are spoilt for choice with the likes of Sione Tuipulotu, Huw Jones, Cameron Redpath and Rory Hutchinson to choose from.

Image: Wing Duhan van der Merwe has proven a real threat to opposition and regular source of tries

The Scots have undoubted quality, and can and will score tries against anybody.

This year, their schedule is more favourable than most too. An inexperienced and injury-hit Wales in Cardiff up first, followed by home games vs France and England – with a rest weekend in between – a trip to face Italy, and then Ireland away on the final day, by which point all bets could be off.

What’s not?

It is not that Scotland possess poor forwards – there are some very talented players at Townsend’s disposal in this area too – but it is clearly an area underpowered when compared to the other nations, and most definitely lacks behind the star quality of their backline.

Scotland’s scrum and lineout maul has too often been taken to the cleaners by the likes of Ireland and France, while any sort of tight, physical contest has invariably been lost.

Image: Scotland's scrum and set-piece game has proven a real area of weakness

The inconsistent form of the Scots has been a long-term issue too.

In 2021, Scotland won two extremely difficult away Tests vs England and France, only to lose at home to Wales and Ireland. In 2022, Scotland beat England at Murrayfield on the opening weekend but lost to Wales in Cardiff a week on – that Test a huge chance to stake a claim at the top of the table, but one missed. They were then heavily beaten at home to France and away in Ireland.

In July 2022, they managed to lose a three-Test series 2-1 in Argentina from a position of real comfort, while November 2022 saw a home defeat to Australia.

The 2023 Six Nations saw a strong start peter out after defeats in Paris and to Ireland in Edinburgh, while the World Cup saw Scotland give eventual champions South Africa a scare, but they then get destroyed by Ireland in a Test they had to win.

Image: Scotland's inconsistency over recent years has proven the key thorn to potential success

Scotland have been the most inconsistent of sides, and it has cost them any chance to compete at the very top in recent years.

Their record vs Ireland is also becoming an immense problem, and potentially as much a mental one as physical. Indeed, Ireland have won their last nine Tests in a row vs Scotland, and 13 of the last 14 going back a decade.

The entire notion of a co-captaincy is also open to criticism, while injuries look likely to deprive the Scots of Graham, Darge, WP Nel and Adam Hastings for at least part of the championship.

Image: Darcy Graham's injury absence is a big blow for Scotland heading into the championship

Championship record

Six Nations since 2000: None

Overall: 15 titles outright (1887, 1889, 1891, 1895, 1901, 1903, 1904, 1907, 1925, 1929, 1933, 1938, 1984, 1990, 1999)

Scotland’s 38-man squad for the 2024 Six Nations:

Forwards (21): Ewan Ashman, Josh Bayliss, Jamie Bhatti, Andy Christie, Luke Crosbie, Scott Cummings, Jack Dempsey, Rory Darge (c), Grant Gilchrist, Richie Gray, Matt Fagerson, Zander Fagerson, Alec Hepburn, Johnny Matthews, Elliot Millar-Mills, WP Nel, Jamie Ritchie, Pierre Schoeman, Sam Skinner, George Turner, Glen Young.

Backs (17): Ben Healy, George Horne, Rory Hutchinson, Huw Jones, Blair Kinghorn, Ross McCann, Stafford McDowall, Harry Paterson, Ali Price, Cameron Redpath, Arron Reed, Kyle Rowe, Finn Russell (c), Kyle Steyn, Sione Tuipulotu, Duhan van der Merwe, Ben White.


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