In rugby union, can 2023 be the year Scotland’s men start to deliver rather than flattering to deceive?
An improved showing in the Six Nations is a must before the focus turns to the World Cup later in the year.
2022 was a funny year, as there were plenty of promising signs, but little in the way of good results to back them up.
The Scotland team’s chances seem to continually hampered by a harmful combination: failing to take enough of their chances in attack and being a soft touch defensively in the big moments in tight games.
In last year’s Six Nations, the positivity created by a Calcutta Cup victory against England at Murrayfield was quickly extinguished by demoralising losses to Wales and France.
The Scots did the needful against Italy in Rome, but were miles off the pace against Ireland in Dublin.
During the summer, a series defeat in Argentina was snatched from the jaws of victory with Gregor Townsend’s side crumbling – having led by 15 points at one stage in the second half of the decisive third test.
Finn Russell should play every time if available
A look back at the autumn internationals brings us to the latest chapter in the Finn Russell debacle.
It is clear the player and coach Townsend will never be the best of friends – but what is also abdundantly clear is Scotland are a far better side with Russell wearing the number 10 jersey.
The Bath-bound stand-off strikes fear into the opposition like no other Scotland player can.
Townsend’s decision to leave him out of the squad for the first two games of the autumn based on “form” was ludicrous.
The ineptitude of that decision was further highlighted when Russell returned and produced fine displays against New Zealand and Argentina.
In 2023, if Russell is available he surely has to selected, regardless of the frosty nature of his relationship with Townsend.
Important clashes on horizon, with World Cup a crunch moment for Townsend’s tenure
Looking at the results in the autumn, the same old failings were evident.
Wins against Fiji and Argentina was secured, but when it came to the crunch leads were squandered against Australia and the All Blacks.
Looking ahead to this year, the Scots have three home games in the Six Nations.
Victory will be expected against Italy, but Wales may well be a rejuvenated force under the returning Warren Gatland, while Scotland have failed to beat Ireland in their last seven meetings.
The Dark Blues will visit Twickenham where England – under new coach Steve Borthwick – could also be a much-improved proposition.
Grand Slam winners in 2022, France, will also provide a stern test in Paris.
Come the autumn, all eyes will be on the World Cup in France.
Scotland were once regulars in the knock-out stages of the tournament, but have failed to get out of their pool in two of the last three World Cups.
And the chances are that could happen again with defending champions South Africa and bogey team Ireland also in Pool B. Tonga and Romania make up a tricky section.
A pool stage exit at the World Cup would surely bring Townsend’s tenure as head coach to an end.