2019 was supposed to be the year Scotland came of age – but instead Gregor Townsend’s team of bright young things found themselves being outshone on the world’s biggest stage.
Now former Dark Blues favourite Scott Hastings fears there could be another bout of growing pains in the months to come.
Townsend’s swashbuckling side are still trying to get their heads around how a season that promised so much turned out to be such a disaster.
A horrendous list of injuries was blamed for a Guinness Six Nations campaign that fell flat from the first whistle.
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Victory over perennial whipping boys Italy and a remarkable second-half fightback against England after being 24 points down at the interval to claim a stunning Twickenham draw barely masked what had been a deeply disappointing championship.
However, the emergence of talented youngsters like Darcy Graham, Jamie Ritchie and Magnus Bradbury in the place of Townsend’s casualties did raise hopes that Scotland might make it big in Japan at the World Cup.
But few returned from the Far East able to say they performed at their best and it turned out to be a sad farewell for former mainstays of the team, Greig Laidlaw, John Barclay and Tommy Seymour, as they each announced their retirements from international action following Scotland’s pool-stage exit.
And without those wise old heads, Hastings is concerned the daring instincts of mavericks like Racing 92 playmaker Finn Russell and Glasgow’s prolific try-scoring scrum-half George Horne will be harder to rein in.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) January 22, 2020
The 65-time capped Scotland centre told the PA news agency: “I think Scotland are in for a tough season. There is a new era ahead. The team needs to try to put the World Cup to bed but they have lost three experienced heads in Laidlaw, Barclay and Seymour.
“There needs to be a new energy coming into the team and you can see Gregor is trying to do that with the six uncapped players he has included in his Six Nations squad.
“But has Gregor learned from the failure of last year? There was a lot of expectancy on the team but they imploded on numerous occasions.
“While there is that attacking vibe within the team there has to be a realist approach to the games to ensure there is a winning strategy. Yes Gregor likes to play with an all-out attacking style but he needs to strike a balance.
“The things we need to see is how does George Horne become that experienced player, how does Finn Russell strike that balance between exuberance, mercurial brilliance with also the need to be pinpoint accurate so he can deliver a winning performance for Scotland.
“How do they handle the growing pains that will come as the new players find their feet at international level?
“There are lots of questions about this team and certainly some question marks over how they manage their style of play.
“I think it will fascinating to see how this team evolve but I worry for Scotland this could be a really difficult season.”
Scotland are not the only side having to readjust this year but Hastings feels they will feel the effects more than the likes of Ireland and Wales, who are both under new management.
He said: “I think Ireland and Wales are going through something a bit of a transitional period, similar to Scotland.
“England and France undoubtedly look like the teams to beat but I’m afraid Scotland are looking at fourth, fifth and sixth.
“I know that sounds harsh and when I played I certainly never went into a season thinking like that.
“But while I’m still a passionate Scotland supporter this time I’ve got to lead my head rule my heart.
“They have shown in glimpses that they can play well but you need more than that to compete for a Six Nations title.”
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