Whisper it, there is a feeling things might be starting to turn for Scotland

Appropriately attired Scottish fans celebrate after their Six Nations win over England at Murrayfield.

You don’t have to be an incurable optimist to support Scotland but it helps. Year upon year of sky-high hopes being dashed when reality hit home could make even the most fervent fan start to wonder if that gleam they see in the distance is the light at the end of the tunnel or just another train coming to crush their dreams.

A month ago, that was pretty much how most of them felt. Results had been good, nearly spectacular, so they went into the Six Nations in a buoyant mood but ran straight into the humbling experience of losing to an injury-ravaged Wales side in Cardiff.

So, even though they bounced back to beat France and shock the whole of European rugby with the quality and style that allowed them to add England to their list of victims, there is a note of caution alongside the feel-good factor that produced.

Dublin is level with Cardiff as Scotland’s second-happiest hunting ground since the turn of the Millennium – yup, that’s right; one win in ten visits since the old Five Nations turned into Six, but that is one more than they have managed in London or Paris.

Only Rome, where they have won four Championship matches has proved more fruitful.

Still, you don’t have to tell the Scots that one in ten is a miserly return. When you also remember that that win in 2010 came at the end of a season where hopes had been well and truly battered to death in a previously winless Six Nations, you realise that travelling across the Irish Sea with any sense of optimism is an experience from ancient history.

Yet, whisper it, there really is a feeling in Scottish rugby that things might be starting to turn. This might be it; the good times are coming.

It all started four yeas ago when Vern Cotter took over a demoralised and under-performing team and started the rebuilding process. To be fair, he did have some decent building blocks, particularly over at Glasgow Warriors where Gregor Townsend was building a unit producing noteworthy performances as well as results in the PRO12.

Glasgow were a year away from winning the competition but had done enough to show themselves that they had the capacity to cope with the best of their rivals. By the end of that season Townsend had taken them all the way to the first cross-border silverware in the history of Scottish club rugby.

That was nearly trumped a few months later when Cotter took the national team to within a whisker of a Rugby World Cup semi-final, a last gasp penalty wrongly awarded to Australia handing the Scots a one-point defeat in the quarter-final.

Since then, Scotland have managed at least one win against every team they have played except New Zealand – and even there they might have nicked it if they had got a couple of lucky breaks – and, bizarrely, Fiji who pricked the bubble of optimism built up by beating Australia in Sydney.

Also since then, Cotter has gone back to France and Townsend has shifted into the Scotland hot seat to continue the good work. He has been sensible enough to pick up the blueprint for success which Cotter left behind and then add his own touches to improve it.

So the mercurial Finn Russell masterminds things at fly-half with the controlling influence of Greig Laidlaw keeping his wilder flights of fancy under control; Huw Jones and Stuart Hogg add a genuine scoring threat out wide and the forwards are a settled unit with an old-fashioned Scottish predatory back row sowing the seeds of chaos in the loose.

Cotter’s final Six Nations saw Scotland win all their home games for the first time since Italy joined the tournament, a feat they have repeated this season under Townsend.

Last summer also saw them beat Italy and Australia on tour before heading back to Murrayfield where they beat Samoa and thrashed Australia after the visitors had a man sent off.

That’s nine matches, six wins, since Townsend took over, but there is that proverbial elephant sitting in the corner of the room – the stark contrast between their home and away form.

Four of those wins were in Edinburgh and they also beat Italy on neutral territory in Singapore. The only away win came in Sydney. Worse still, there have been too many occasions, like the 61 points they conceded in Twickenham last season and 34 in Cardiff last month, where they have talked themselves up but frozen in the face of a hostile crowd.

Townsend knows this and it was telling that two weeks ago, the first drops of champagne had barely hit the bottom of the Calcutta Cup when he was talking about the need to address their away day problem. They have gone through their preparations to the steady drumbeat of the same issue hammering away in the background.

The hope here is that accepting there is a problem is the first stage in solving it. The shocking no-shows at Twickenham and Cardiff in the last year were both preceded by an overconfident approach in the build-up – too many players believing they had the winning formula cracked. This week has seen the same sort of tension that preceded that huge and impressive performance against England a fortnight ago.

Will it be enough? History suggests not but, if they are honest most of the travelling support would settle for the team showing the same kind of fighting spirit they produced in their last match. If, as Laidlaw, put it, they play to their potential but are beaten by a better team, that is what happens in elite sport. What is not acceptable is another failure to show their potential.

Behind all this is another issue. Everybody knows that the next time they face Ireland away from Murrayfield will be when the sides meet in the World Cup in Japan next year.

Time is running out to squash that travel bug.

Lewis Stuart is a rugby presenter for Rocksport Radio


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