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THE BREAKDOWN, STEVE SCOTT: Scotland have been a joy to watch, but the toughest tests come in the next three weeks

Scotland are aiming for successive wins in Paris for the first time since the 1960s.

Okay, mea culpa. I have to revise my prediction of two wins for Scotland in this Guinness Six Nations.

And the new prediction is: three wins.

I’m not sorry if this is too ‘gloomy’ for some. But I’m actually not gloomy at all.

This current edition is the most entertaining Scotland team I’ve seen in nearly 25 years. For some of that quarter-century, and those of you who’ve been along for the ride will know, Scotland were a very tough watch indeed.

So I share in the general euphoria that sees a team in the dark blue score an unprecedented (in the modern era at least) 83% of their tries via the backs. That’s the hit rate since the end of last year’s Six Nations.

But let’s still be realistic. Scotland are about to play the top two sides in the world in the next three weeks.

A vast improvement in just 12 months

Yes, they certainly have a better chance of beating the odds than we thought a month ago.

It’s only a year ago Scotland were roundly horsed by France at Murrayfield. The French were in the midst of their 14-game unbeaten run at the time, cruising to a Grand Slam. That run only ended in Dublin the other week.

France have been unquestionably wobbling from last spring’s dominant form, even before Dublin. They were definitely lucky to beat both South Africa and Australia in November, and then made heavy weather of Italy in Rome.

Scotland now and 12 months ago are an entirely different unit in gameplan, confidence, attitude and even personnel. They go to Paris with confidence, and quite rightly.

They’ve even done very well against France in recent times. It could be that last year’s game is an outlier.

But this is Paris, where Scotland have won just three times in 50 years. And the Scottish gameplan so effective against England and Paris – bend don’t break, or rope-a-dope – faces its definitive test this next three weeks.

Scotland’s plan may suit France and Ireland better

For a start, Scotland’s incredible strike rate over their last three games of more than four points per visit to the 22 (three is considered outstanding) is probably unsustainable, even against something less than Shaun Edwards and Andy Farrell defences.

Similarly, surrendering 60-70% of possession to a rebuilding England and a Welsh team in complete disarray is one thing. To do so against the far more clinical and effective French and Irish is another.

Ireland have been consistently the most efficient team in the 22 in world rugby over a period of years, not months. It’s a huge part of why they’re the top ranked team and short odds Grand Slam favourites.

I think the current Scotland coaching team and players are acutely aware that Ireland remain the nut they really have to crack.

I don’t doubt they’ve got a plan to do it. But Ireland have a way of making opponents bend to their will, and they’ve done it to Scotland in nearly all their meetings since Gregor Townsend has been head coach.

But all this written, just as I wouldn’t get too euphoric about Scotland’s two wins so far, I wouldn’t be too devastated if they were to lose the next two.

The team have clearly moved on in the last 12 months, as Townsend promised. Credit to him and the players for that. The way Scotland play is thrilling and a delight to long-suffering observers.

I think Scotland will be properly competitive in Paris and against Ireland. And I’m a lot more optimistic about the World Cup – as brutal as Scotland’s pool is.

That might not satisfy those dreaming of Slams and championships. But from where we’ve been, it’s definitely progress.

Hogg should still be the choice for Paris

There seems to be a groundswell developing to drop Stuart Hogg and play Blair Kinghorn at 15 in Paris. I’m not buying it.

Hogg passed the Scottish record of games started against Wales, going to 97. He has 98 caps in all – he was a replacement in his first cap at Cardiff in 2012, and never since.

He should be the fourth Scot to surpass 100 caps against Ireland, and should also beat Ross Ford’s record 110 in time.

But it’s not sentiment, finishing off legacies and records, that are the reason he should be in the team. Kinghorn has done excellently off the bench against England and Wales, but I think his impact as a sub is still his greatest value at the moment.

If Hogg is fully fit, he should play from kick-off, for his experience, but also his importance in Scotland’s kicking game. He’s a better and more accomplished kicker in open field than Kinghorn – remember how well he kicked in the Paris win in 2021 – and at least as good a runner.

Now that we’ve found Kinghorn’s role – his future is definitely at full-back – let’s be patient. His time will come.

Contract season shouldn’t be during the Six Nations

Scotland are rumoured to be setting up Auckland Blues’ coach Leon McDonald as head coach after the World Cup. This has some aerated as ‘disrespectful’ to incumbent Gregor Townsend.

Again, we’re probably overreacting to wins over two fair-to-poor teams. It’s not long since there was a common consensus that Gregor should probably move on after October.

That could still change, obviously. But approaches like these are just common currency for this time of year. We see it starkly with Wales’ almighty mess and threatened strike action right now.

Rugby’s schedule is a mess. Forward planning and contract-negotiating season for coaches and players is done right about now, bang in the middle of the most important annual tournament of the year.

It makes no sense. And what’s happened in Wales is probably the inevitable result. Deals should be hammered out either in the December-January window, or after the Six Nations is done.