What might have been: Scotland left with more questions than answers following the Six Nations

Scotland co-captains Finn Russell and Rorge Darge look on
©Bryan Robertson Photography

It was a Guinness Men’s Six Nations campaign that at times promised so much for Scotland, but in the end delivered so little.

Two wins and three defeats saw Gregor Townsend's side complete the championships with 12 points and finish in fourth place, leaving supporters north of the border thinking about what might have been.

There were some high points; The start against Wales, the ‘oh so nearly’ versus France and the Calcutta Cup win over England, but there were not enough of those positives. When Scotland had momentum, they could never really ram it home.

Certainly, when the team were 27-0 up over Wales in round one, a four-try bonus point needed to be secured but instead the hosts fought back in Cardiff and it finished a rather nail-biting 27-26.

In round two, a 13-3 first-half lead against an out-of-sorts France should have set up a win and although the Scots were scuppered by a ‘no try’ decision at the death, they should have been out of sight well before that.

There were some great moments in the victory over England in round three - and the current positive run versus their old rivals should not be sniffed at - but again, like against Wales, a four-try bonus point should have perhaps been secured given their dominance at times.

And the last two rounds - defeats in Italy and Ireland, the latter despite a stellar defensive effort - left everyone feeling a bit down. The frustration comes because Scotland supporters know just how good this team can be when it clicks into gear.

Here are six talking points post-tournament…

Paying the penalty

Scotland conceded the most penalties, 57, in the whole tournament and when you are giving away that much territory and the like, it can be hard to keep momentum up for a full 80 minutes.

From midway through the first half in round one, Scotland conceded 14 penalties in a row against Wales. Refereeing decisions are always up for debate, but a run like that is worrying and discipline is something that needs to be improved going forward.

Scotland also won the fewest penalties, 27, in the whole tournament and a gap of 30 in those statistics makes it hard to challenge for silverware.

What a carry on

No.8 Jack Dempsey made 53 carries during the tournament to put him fourth in the overall list - England counterpart Ben Earl was top with an amazing 73.

Credit to the former Australian cap for those numbers, but Scotland only had two others in the top 20 - Duhan van der Merwe (41, 16th) and Blair Kinghorn (38, 19th) - and both of them are back three players.

To compete with the best sides in the world and beat them regularly, Scotland need more hard yards to be made by their forward pack in general.

Sometimes it may not be pretty, but it is needed to get any team on the front foot which then creates space for the backs. Loosehead prop Pierre Schoeman made 36 carries to put him 21st in the list and if other 'pack mates' can join him and Dempsey in carrying hard more often, then it will help Scotland going forward.

Cummings of age

Everyone in Scottish rugby has known how much of a talent Scott Cummings has been since he captained his country to their first-ever Under-20 win over England in 2016.

He has been in and around the full Scotland squad for a while now, accumulating 38 caps to his name, but injuries and the form of fellow second-rows Grant Gilchrist and the Gray brothers have sometimes stopped him from kicking on.

With the Grays injured just now, Cummings, 27, grabbed his starting chance with both hands during the Six Nations and stepped up to the mark. He made 72 tackles, 127 attacking ruck arrivals and two lineout steals, for example.

With Gilchrist and Richie Gray not getting any younger, Cummings could be an important man for Scotland in the lead up to the 2027 Rugby World Cup.

Tighthead could be a tight spot

Against Ireland on Saturday in Dublin, tighthead prop Zander Fagerson became Scotland’s most-capped male prop ever when he played for his country for the 67th time.

A fine effort in the number three jersey from the 28-year-old of that there is no doubt, but it is the lack of depth in the key position that is a bit of a concern.

Elliot Millar-Mills was on the bench during this tournament and gave it his all while Javan Sebastian has a few appearances under his belt while WP Nel, the long-time bac-kup to Fagerson, is turning 38 next month.

Whenever British & Irish Lion Fagerson has had injuries or disciplinary issues - more of the latter in recent times - the Scottish rugby-watching public has held its collective breath.

Callum Norrie, the 20-year-old who started all of Scotland’s Under-20 Six Nations matches, looks a solid longer-term project, but he is yet to play any competitive minutes for Glasgow.

So, the search goes on for depth behind Fagerson.

Handy Andy

Andy Christie had a brilliant start to the domestic season in England with Saracens, so much so that many thought he would start Scotland’s first match versus Wales.

That never happened and it took until round four for him to earn the number six jersey against Italy.

He then started again against Ireland and although the Scots lost both of the games, he was the standout performer, carrying well and being defensively sound.

He only turns 25 next week so he has a bright future ahead of him, for sure. Back-row is a position of strength for Scotland, but he offers something just a bit different from the other players and is a very athletic individual. 

Duhan’s role

There is no doubt, absolutely none, that Duhan van der Merwe is one of the best finishers in the world.

Five tries in the tournament overall and his brilliant display against England shows that. He now has 26 tries from just 39 caps and is closing in on the Scotland men’s all-time try record.

But could Scotland be getting even more from him?

When you have a man of that size and speed and a playmaker as mercurial as Finn Russell, perhaps the team could be looking to get Van der Merwe off his wing a bit more. When he does come into the midfield, he usually does so with maximum effect, so just imagine if we could see more of it.

What might have been for Scotland, then? Another Six Nations campaign which held so much promise ends with mixed feelings once again.