Scotland spent most of the 2020 Six Nations wrestling ownership of the mantra ‘you never know which side will show up’ away from France.
A disappointing start to last year’s competition saw Scotland lose against England and Ireland but a sublime conclusion featured victories over Italy, France and Wales.
This left Scotland sitting in a disappointing fourth-place despite finishing level on points with Ireland.
A mixed set of results in the Autumn Nations Cup saw Scotland overcome Italy and Georgia only to narrowly succumb to France by seven points.
They were then put to the sword by Ireland in a third-place play-off where they looked the better side regardless of the 15-point deficit.
Despite these disappointing results, it’s now undeniable that Gregor Townsend’s side is littered with world-class talent.
That includes Rory Sutherland and Jonny Gray in the front five, Jamie Ritchie and Hamish Watson in the back row, Ali Price, Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg in the backline.
Collectively these players could be the most exciting thing to come out of Scotland since marshmallow-flavoured Irn-Bru, but with that comes increased expectations.
In Sutherland, Scotland have a potential Lions starter, while Ritchie and Watson are competition for any flanker partnership in test rugby.
The attacking exploits of Price, Russell and Hogg are well documented, and now Scotland can add another lethal threat to their backline in the form of Duhan van der Merwe.
He’s scored three tries in five tests and could be the difference for a Scotland squad which also features four players looking to make their debut.
This includes highly rated Bath centre Cameron Redpath, who recently decided to represent the Tartan Army over England.
Scotland are also improving their strength in depth — WP Nel, Zander Fagerson and Oli Kebble provide genuine options at tighthead and loosehead.
Meanwhile, at second row, the Gray brothers have both been selected alongside Grant Gilchrist and Scott Cummings.
At fly-half Russell is supported by Jaco van der Walt, who made his debut in the 2020 Autumn Nations Cup, but Adam Hastings will add another exciting option when the 24-year-old returns from injury.
Finally, centre turned full-back Huw Jones could offer a fascinating option if Hogg falls foul of injury or illness after the exciting but unpredictable player switched positions while at Glasgow Warriors.
Scotland’s opener against England on Saturday is clearly an opportunity to make a statement but win, lose or draw, Scotland must not allow that game to define their tournament.
It will truly be a marathon not a sprint for Townsend’s side, and there is a risk that either victory or defeat will set the expectations too high or too low for the boys in blue.
Scotland have the quality to win the Six Nations, now they must prove they have the mentality to win it.
Featured image credit: Marco Iacobucci Epp via Shutterstock