Scotland’s New Zealand- born flanker Blair Cowan insists the Dark Blues’ narrow defeat by the All Blacks last weekend proves that Vern Cotter’s men are on the verge of something special.
A sold-out Murrayfield crowd thought it was witnessing history on Saturday as the Scots pushed the world champions all the way.
Skipper Grieg Laidlaw fluffed a penalty 13 minutes from time which would have put the hosts in front and on course for their first ever win over the Kiwis after 109 years of trying.
But with that let-off, Steve Hansen’s southern hemisphere giants romped down the pitch and grabbed what proved to be the winning try when Jeremy Thrush found a rare gap in the Scottish defence to seal a 24-16 win.
It was cruel luck for Scotland but, having shipped 100 points and 13 tries in their previous two encounters against New Zealand, the evidence of progress under Kiwi coach Cotter is clear to see. It was also the first time Scotland had come within 10 points of the All Blacks since losing the 1991 World Cup third-place play-off.
Now London Irish back-rower Cowan believes that, with another World Cup coming next year, Scotland can start dreaming of another run to the latter stages.
They have one final chance to hone their gameplan before the six nations gets under way in February when they take on Tonga at Kilmarnock’s Rugby Park on Saturday. But Cowan insists there is no holding back Cotter’s side.
He said: “You have got to be real about it, it was still a loss on Saturday. If you are going to accept defeats then you may as well give up there. We are bitterly disappointed with the loss but there are a lot of positives we can build on. It’s not a negative loss if you want to put it that way.
“There is a sense that something is growing in this squad. It’s very special and perfectly timed with the six nations and World Cup coming up.
“We feel we are heading towards something special. We are a team on the up. The unity among the squad and the sense that we are going somewhere is just amazing.”
Saturday’s match pulled at Cowan’s heart strings.
Born and raised in the small town of Upper Hut, near Wellington, the 28-year-old turned his back on his hopes of ever pulling on an All Black jersey during the summer when he was called up to represent the land of his Argyll-born mother, Joan.
In the days before the second autumn Test with New Zealand, he spoke about how tough it would be to stare down the haka.
He said: “There was a lot of pride in myself. As I watched the haka, it was a bit of home coming at me and it was something I will cherish forever.”