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Neil Drysdale: Here’s what would brighten up 2023 for Scottish sports fans – even it’s more in hope than expectation

Scotland's Finn Russell excels for Racing 92, but has been dropped by Scotland.
Scotland's Finn Russell excels for Racing 92, but has been dropped by Scotland.

I’ve never forgotten the emotional crescendo which nearly blew the roof off the old Murrayfield at the end of the Grand Slam decider in 1990.

It was unforgettable, mesmerising, one of those moments where you turned to gaze at strangers, caught their eye and shared a smile of pure, unfettered joy; a pinch-me-I’m dreaming experience which still raises goose pimples as I watch the old pictures of Tony Stanger’s try helping his compatriots beat England 13-7 in a winner-takes-all contest.

Yet, at the start of a new year, it would be good to celebrate some triumphs on the grand stage in 2023, rather than cling to the lyrics in The Likely Lads theme – “the only thing to look forward to is the past.”

The Gothenburg Greats celebrate with the trophy on a night in which victory over Real Madrid made them immortal

Nostalgia has its place, and there will, quite rightly, be plenty of commemorations of Aberdeen’s famous European Cup Winners’ Cup victory in Gothenburg on the 40th anniversary of that astonishing success over Real Madrid.

But, to be honest, there comes a time where the focus has to be on the future, not events which happened decades ago.

Looking to the future, not the past

I know it’s cherishable to reflect on a period from 1983 to 1991 when Scotland secured two rugby Grand Slams, the Dons picked up a brace of European trophies, Freuchie won the National Village Cup, Sandy Lyle drove to a couple of Majors and Liz McColgan was queen of the world in Tokyo – and that’s before we even mention the exploits of Jocky Wilson and myriad Commonwealth medalists.

However, there are plenty of high-profile competitions in 2023, including World Cups in both rugby and cricket and a Ryder Cup in Italy to whet the appetite.

So what are the expectations for Scotland in some of these elite tournaments?

Well, it may be asking a lot, but here are some areas where we could be toasting another coup de grace.


Scotland have the potential to improve on their 2022 fortunes in the New Year.

In 2022, the Scots resembled the little girl in the nursery rhyme – when they were good, they were very good. But, when they were bad, they weren’t so much horrid as horrific.


But the talent is there and, if Finn Russell maintains his form, Stuart Hogg regains his genius, and Gregor Townsend allows his backs to sparkle, they have an excellent chance of challenging for the Six Nations, which starts next month with a trip to Twickenham.

That shouldn’t be overly intimidating, given England’s problems, while the Welsh, Irish and Italians all face a trip to Edinburgh.

France will be the favourites, but there’s no reason why the SRU’s finest can’t be in the mix at the end of the competition.

Scotland’s Stuart Hogg and Ali Price celebrate with the Cuttitta Cup after the win over Italy.

It’s far tougher in the World Cup, where they are in the same group as Ireland and South Africa. But it’s overdue for them to improve on their recent dismal record against their Celtic cousins, who, despite recent glories, remain overly reliant on the talents of an increasingly creaky Johnny Sexton. Yes, he’s gifted, one of the greats.

But he can’t go on forever. And Irish eyes have been smiling long enough.


Kyle Coetzer reached 50 for Scotland. Image: Wullie Marr/DC Thomson
Kyle Coetzer reached 50 for Scotland. Image: Wullie Marr/DC Thomson

The ICC has carved up the game to ensure the Big Three – England, Australia and India – command a monopoly on affairs. Every other sport is expanding, but cricket’s premier event is still restricted to 10 teams.


It’s ridiculous, but the Scots have to use their shoddy treatment at the hands of the international governing body as a motivation to prove they deserve to be in what is an exclusive little company.

If they want to qualify for India, they will have to overcome the likes of West Indies and possibly even South Africa. In T20, that’s achievable, as they have already proved at the recent World Cup. In the 50-over format, it’s a whole lot harder.

But Shane Burger’s men are capable of beating anybody on their day. And they realise they need to raise their standards to attain Full Member status. It’s a massive incentive.


Robert MacIntyre still believes he can automatically qualify for the Ryder Cup team.

It’s an awfully long time since any Scot won a major. It hasn’t occurred in this century. But at least there are players who have shown their ability on the international stage.


Robert MacIntyre possesses the requisite va-va-voom to transcend any obstacles, and even if his recent fortunes haven’t consistently lived up to his early dashes of brio and brilliance, he won the Italian Open in September and has company in the shape of other recent tournament champions, including Aberdeen’s Richie Ramsay and David Law and Glasgow’s Ewen Ferguson.

Let’s see them move up a few gears and fighting for majors.


Scotland head coach Steve Clarke is in confident mood. Pic: Rafal Oleksiewicz/PA Wire.

Steve Clarke is nobody’s idea of a stand-up comic. He has far more in common with the Rev I M Jolly than Peter Kay.


But he has been the catalyst for a revival in Scottish fortunes and while his team face a stern task in reaching next year’s European Championship in Germany, Clarke is scared of nobody, even if he could probably do with Erling Haaland picking up an injury or two during 2023.

Scotland meet Cyprus and Spain in March and that’s before they lock horns with Norway. But they have their swagger back and players such as Lewis Ferguson are shining on the European stage.

The more, the merrier in the future.


Scotland’s Andy Murray in action against England’s Jack Draper at Battle of the Brits. Image: Kenny Elrick.

It’s asking an awful lot for Andy Murray to contend for another Grand Slam. But now, there’s Cameron Norrie who has climbed up the ATP rankings with impressive effort.


And, frankly, just watching Murray these days, whether in Aberdeen or Melbourne, is a pleasure. If he can put together even two or three wins on the spin at the Australian Open in the weeks ahead, it will brighten up the grimmest of January days.