Are Scotland “the darlings of Europe”?

Scotland are being talked up as potential 6 Nations champions, and the ‘darlings of Europe’ by Eddie Jones, but how good are they really?

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Scotland’s previous high points in the World Rugby rankings

Well, the stats are the stats. And they are fairly unequivocal. Rankings wise, this is the best pre 6 Nations Scotland that we have ever seen. Their previous best going into the tournament was actually in 2011 where they peaked at just over 81 ranking points after a solid 2010, which despite a loss to Italy in the 6 Nations, included away wins over Ireland, Argentina and a home win against South Africa.

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Scotland’s finish to 2010 led them to entering the 2011 6 Nations on a high

But does pre-tournament ranking mean anything?

Sadly for the Scots, it appears not. They came 5th in 2011, with just a solitary win over Italy to their name. The results were close, but as is usually the case with Scotland, just to the wrong side.

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Previous rankings highs and subsequent 5 or 6 Nations finishing position

Previous high ranking points have not correlated any better to 5 or 6 Nations performances, with the previous peaks either coming after the 6 Nations has finished (for example 1984 and 1990 Scotland Grand Slams leading to a higher ranking through winning, rather than a high ranking leading to a Grand Slam) or, in the case of the 1928 and 1967 highs, the high ranking came just before and didn’t convert to a Championship result.

Generally, speaking better rankings obviously correlate to better 6 Nations results, as the below chart shows. However, this still shows that the ranking will follow the results, which is to be expected given rankings are calculated on results.

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So how should Scotland fans interpret this? Does this mean that Scotland won’t do well?

Of course not. It shows that this is the best 6 Nations team Scotland have ever fielded. Indeed this is, at least rankings wise, currently the 4th best Scotland team ever (behind the 1928, 1976 and 1984 vintages respectively). Previous poor performances after high rankings are no indication of what will happen this year.

However, what it might indicate is just how difficult a tournament the 6 Nations is for a (slightly) smaller team like Scotland to win. Strength and depth in a short tournament such as the 6 Nations is very important, and Scotland perhaps just don’t have the players to manage.

From having looked at the individual 5 or 6 Nations results in all of 1928, 1967 and 1991 it also shows the importantance of home advantage. It is possible to theorise that Scotland had the ‘wrong’ games away in those years which unfortunately led to the losses that shaped their tournament. Unfortunately for the Scots, this may ring true for 2018 – they have some difficult games away from home.

Significant losses in the front row are also likely to make it all the more challenging for the Scots, but with their try-scoring prowess across the backline, this is probably one of their best chances Scotland have had for a long time to make a high ranking count for something in the 6 Nations.

Will it come to fruition this time? Who knows. But at least in the meantime we’ve got some pretty pictures to think about.

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