Scotland to spring a surprise, or England to sweep the board?

SHOULD optimism win games, Scotland will be crowned Six Nations champions on Friday on the eve of the first day of the world’s best international rugby tournament. If on the other hand arrogance counts for anything England are already home and dry.

The reality is of course quite different, as nothing is likely to be decided until the final round of games on Saturday March 16, over six weeks after this week’s mouth watering three games are played in Cardiff, London and Rome.

The pick of these games is the oldest rugby international in the history of the game, which is certain to get the pulses racing, giving a pointer towards the final outcome.

England versus Scotland is one to savour, even if the form book suggests the home side should win, though Ian Rankin, coach at Premiership side Dundee High, side sees it differently.

“England will of course start as warm favourites. It is, after all, 40 years since Scotland won at Twickenham, but if Scotland can play the kind of high tempo rugby they are capable of, they could swamp England. But only if the have learned from the three defeats in the autumn,” said Rankin, who also believes the English attitude could work in favour of the Scots. “If England think they only have to turn up, as they have done before, it would be a huge plus for Scotland.”

“They will, of course parade their win against the All Blacks in November as an indication that they are again potential world champions, but we’ll see what happens on the day. I am very hopeful of a good game, and maybe, just maybe of a Scottish win,” said Rankin.

His opposite number at Aberdeen Grammar Alex Duncan was equally optimistic about the outcome, but coy about forecasting a Scots win. “Of course Scotland can win, but a lot will depend on what new coach Scott Johnson brings to the table. He certainly could not have picked a harder game to start his career as the man in charge, but if he can stir the pride of the team, England will be in for a surprise. It’s great opportunity to launch the campaign, especially as the match is followed by three home games, which I am convinced they can win,” he insisted.

Two and half hours earlier, Wales will have launched its defence at the Millennium Stadium where they will find Ireland in no mood to surrender quietly to their Celtic cousins over the water.

On the Sunday, Italy will host the third of the weekend’s games, determined to prove to opponents France that the tournament is all the richer for a strong Italian challenge.

But while home advantage usually prevails, it would be a major shock to the rugby system if Scotland, Ireland and France were all to win on the road. Stranger things have, however, happened.

Next week we shall concentrate on the second round of games in which Scotland will be at home to Italy, France host a match with Wales, while Ireland will bid to prove they could be title contenders when they play England in Dublin.

The Scots will have a strong contingent of Ellon players attending the London game all convinced that they will witness a Scottish win.

“You have just got to believe that otherwise there is no point turning up,” said interim head coach Michael Cox.