Six Nations 2015: Exciting times ahead for Scottish rugby
Our man in Glasgow takes a look over the Scotland team ahead of this weekend's match against France in Paris
It has been a long time since there has been any confidence in a Scotland team entering the Six Nations, but there is an unnatural amount of confidence from Scotland fans this time around.
And who can blame them? Vern Cotter’s tenure as head coach has been an enjoyable period of attractive rugby as he changes from the old guard to a new and exciting team of young players.
Add that to the growing success of Glasgow Warriors and the improved performances of Edinburgh Rugby then you get a group of fans who are excited about their national team for the first time in a while.
After giving debuts to the likes of Adam Ashe and Finn Russell in the summer tour, it was the turn of their Glasgow Warriors team-mate Mark Bennett in the autumn tests.
The centre was very impressive on his debut against Argentina and started brightly against the All Blacks before an injury cut short his time on the pitch.
But the 21-year-old has returned at a vital time for his country having played in European clashes with Montpellier and Bath and is now set to return to the number 13 shirt and take his Glasgow partnership with Alex Dunbar onto the international stage.
It was evident during his period on the sidelines that Glasgow Warriors missed his tenacious performances and if he can take that level of impact onto the international stage on a consistent basis then he’ll be a standout for the whole tournament.
The performances of Russell will also be vital to Scotland’s fortunes in the tournament. The fly-half was a star of his country’s autumn tests but has since went off the boil slightly for his club after missing some vital kicks in big matches.
But it would be harsh to lay too much criticism at the feet of the 22-year-old and should he regain the confidence he appeared to be lacking at times since the autumn tests then it’ll be hard for Greig Tonks to displace him from the number 10 shirt.
At scrum-half, Chris Cusiter has been dropped from the squad and it is likely that Greig Laidlaw will keep hold of the number nine shirt, but he’ll face stiff competition from Edinburgh’s Sam Hidalgo-Clyne who is looking to make his Scotland debut during the Six Nations.
Hidalgo-Clyne has been in exceptional form for Edinburgh recently which culminated in a magnificent European Challenge Cup performance when he scored 28 points in the win over Bordeaux.
But it’s not all rainbows and butterflies for Vern Cotter. Ahead of his Six Nations coaching debut in Paris there must be a headache over the fitness of Stuart Hogg.
The ever-impressive full back hasn’t played since Glasgow were beaten by Edinburgh on January 2 and on that occasion the Warrior entered the field with a heavily bandaged leg and hasn’t been seen since.
This – despite a period of huge importance for Warriors with two huge European matches having been played – surely hints at the Hawick-born star not quite being at full fitness ahead of the start of the tournament.
The biggest talking point of the squad has been the inclusion of Hugh Blake – despite the likes of John Barclay and Kelly Brown not being included.
Blake, who was born in New Zealand and has an All Blacks U20 cap, is yet to play professional rugby for Edinburgh but has clearly impressed Cotter enough for the Scotland head coach to put his neck on the line to call him into the squad.
Whether Blake plays much during the Six Nations is another matter, but he’ll certainly be one to watch if he does make his debut.
The squad certainly looks exciting and is on course for an excellent Six Nations, it might be a step too far this time around but with the likes of Josh Strauss becoming available for selection this summer it’s certainly an exciting time for Scottish rugby.