Thursday 22 August 2019

Flying Scotsmen will have Irish on red alert after routing Wallabies

"I don't think we're at our peak yet," said centre Huw Jones. "We're building something really exciting, we're looking to get better and definitely can. Photo: PA

Richard Bath

It says much about Scotland's transformation from formidably tough to beat under Vern Cotter to runaway train under Gregor Townsend that as soon as Saturday's evisceration of the Wallabies had finished, Scottish thoughts immediately turned to the Six Nations.

Joe Schmidt will have watched Ireland's World Cup pool rivals' performance anxiously and he will have done the same as another rival in Japan secured an impressive draw against France in Paris.

With Scotland's self-belief at an all-time high after scoring 53 points against the world's third-ranked side, every one of the team and coaching crew who spoke after the Hopetoun Cup win was as keen to discuss the challenges to come as to analyse the heroics we had just witnessed.

"I don't think we're at our peak yet," said centre Huw Jones. "We're building something really exciting, we're looking to get better and definitely can.

"We've got high aspirations and will definitely be looking to improve on last year."

Given that in last season's Six Nations the Scots beat Wales, Ireland and Italy, lost narrowly to France and were destroyed by England at Twickenham - a loss that seemed to define their tournament in a way the successes never could - thoughts will inevitably turn to the Calcutta Cup at Murrayfield in February.

With Scotland not suffering from the post-Lions torpor which seems to afflict those who toured the summer before - the only Scot who underperformed this autumn is Tommy Seymour, a Lion - and with England struggling for fluency, the games against France and England at Murrayfield will be key.

"It's giving me goosebumps just thinking about it," said centre Peter Horne when asked about facing the Auld Enemy at Murrayfield. "Even at the start of the (Australia) game with the anthem, the atmosphere was incredible.

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It's hard not getting emotional, it's special. It's something Barcs (captain John Barclay) has spoken loads about, making this place a fortress so teams don't want to come here.

"I think we've laid down another marker against Australia. We've come out and produced the goods. We want to make this place a fortress going into the Six Nations.

"The crowd has been great. You hear the anthem being sung on 60 minutes. It just buzzes you up, and you feel you can run all day."

The crushing 61-21 defeat by England at the start of this year was part of a narrative where Scotland fail to back up wins.

After narrowly beating Ireland, they just lost to France. After comfortably beating Wales, they were destroyed by England, finishing with a straightforward win over Italy.

This autumn, however, while their record is won-lost-won, there has been a consistency of performance and attacking menace that will make the other Six Nations contenders take notice.

"Everyone has to take us seriously now," said Horne. "England are flying and have a real winning culture, but it's a challenge we can't wait for. Like last week, as soon as the final whistle went against the All Blacks (in Scotland's 22-17 defeat) you just wanted to play them again the next day.

"That's the feeling in camp. We want to take on the best in the world and test ourselves. It will be great to face England and France at home.

"Ireland are flying too. The Six Nations is going to be really competitive. We can't wait."

Given that Scotland have a notoriously well-established pattern of promising much in the autumn and then tanking in the Six Nations, it would be understandable were Townsend to downplay Scotland's achievements.

But he made was no effort to dampen expectations.

"Optimism is a good thing," he said. "We should be optimistic but realise there's a lot of things we can do better. We're not going to get carried away.

"We start with Wales away, so there's a bit of history against us there.

"They'll ask different questions than the way Australia and New Zealand have."

The Scots hope the answers will be the same ones received by this autumn's visitors to Murrayfield. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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