A place alongside some of the finest teams in Scottish history beckons Gregor Townsend’s new model tartan army on Sunday, statistically speaking at least.
A sixth successive victory, which would be a fifth in a row over France at Murrayfield, would put this side in the illustrious company of the grand slam-winning sides of 1925 and 1990 as the only Scotland teams to win six straight games since the turn of the 20th century.
Last week’s comeback victory over Italy in Florence equalled the nation’s best sequence of the professional era, in 2011, but the visit of Les Bleus brings a litmus test of progress.
With Scotland’s match against Fiji next Saturday now another casualty of coronavirus, and France hosting Italy in their final Autumn Nations Cup group game, this has the flavour of a semi-final shootout. The winner of Sunday’s contest should progress to the competition’s final in a fortnight, where England may lie in wait at Twickenham.
But Scotland have fallen into the trap of getting ahead of themselves before, and their captain, Stuart Hogg, insists they are thinking no further than kick-off.
“We are aware of what’s potentially on the line,” said the Exeter full-back, who will win his 79th cap. “But we’re focusing on the first 20 minutes. We’ll take it quarter by quarter. We can’t look too far ahead or else we’ll slip up. We need to be there from minute one. Hopefully the French will tire and we can really take the game to them. We have to be in a position to keep going after them time and time again and not get bored of it.”
Defeat against Fabien Galthié’s side, probably the form team in world rugby, would not necessarily signal an end to Scotland’s resurgence. The foundations laid this year – a defence that has conceded seven tries in seven games, a hugely improved scrum (despite a wobble against Italy last week), a lineout maul that has brought half a dozen tries in the past three games and greater emphasis on playing in the right areas – all bode well for future success.
Hogg acknowledges that new-found relish for defensive chores holds the key against a French side who are missing fly-half Romain Ntamack – Matthieu Jalibert will deputise – but still boast a wealth of attacking talent from Thomas Ramos at full-back via centre Virimi Vakatawa and scrum-half Antoine Dupont through to the super-charged hooker Camille Chat.
“They’ve got some world-class talent all over the field and we know that defence will win us this game,” Hogg said. “[Defence coach] Steve Tandy has brought a whole new outlook to the way we defend. The big thing is taking that confidence, turning it into belief and really going after France. We want people to be getting off the deck and smashing lumps out of guys, going time after time after time. Teams will break down eventually.
“If we continue to go after them, they’ll get bored and kick us the ball. That’s what we want. Any time France kick, we’ll see that as a little victory because they no longer want to attack. They’ve been putting 30 points past teams. That’s a challenge we won’t hide away from. We’ll meet fire with fire and enjoy it.”