Scotland head coach Vern Cotter refused to be drawn on his team’s chances of mounting a serious challenge in the “brutal” Six Nations but he is encouraged by the way the players are maturing together.
Cotter named his final Scotland squad before his summer departure, with Gloucester centre Matt Scott recalled and uncapped Edinburgh forwards Cornell du Preez and Simon Berghan also named in the 37-man pool.
The latter is included amid doubt over the availability of WP Nel, who is being assessed after aggravating a neck injury during his team’s European Challenge Cup victory over Harlequins.
Scotland otherwise have a fairly settled squad ahead of their BT Murrayfield opener against Ireland on Feb. 4 but Cotter was in no mind to make bold predictions ahead of his third Six Nations campaign. Last season yielded two wins after a wooden-spoon whitewash in 2015.
“There is no point in saying things,” he said. “That is something I have learned over the last couple of years. This is brutal, this is tough. These teams are improving.
“Ireland and England are improving, Wales have always been there, they have the confidence, Italy will be changing the way they play.
“We know where we are in world rugby, we know the teams we are playing against are ranked better than us bar one. Every one of those teams are improving and we are trying to improve and I think we have.
“The challenge of Six Nations is substantial, it’s a big competition. If you look at Ireland first up, they have recently beaten the All Blacks, Australia and South Africa. England haven’t lost a game for a while.
“So the challenges are there and that’s the exciting part. Our aim is to win every game but we are realistic and we want to improve and do well in the Six Nations. Is that going to be one win, two wins, three wins?
“We don’t know, but our aim is to try and nail each one and we want players to perform at their best, and we will get on with it game at a time.”
Matt Scott’s fine form for Gloucester has seen him earn a recall to the Scotland squad for the Six Nations Championship.
Whisper it, but Rob Howley’s Six Nations squad has led to a renewed sense of optimism in Wales.
Mark McCall has eased fears that lock George Kruis will miss the start of England’s Six Nations campaign.
However, Cotter pointed to the continued development of the Gray brothers, Jonny and Richie, in the pack plus his options in the back division, citing the form of scrum-halves Greig Laidlaw, Henry Pyrgos and Ali Price, stand-off Finn Russell and full-back Stuart Hogg.
“There are a number of players who have played several Test matches now together and there are combinations,” the New Zealander said.
“Perhaps we lose less time putting things into place at the start of these competitions. A lot of detail has been covered over the past two months.
“Is it our best squad? Maybe, but everyone else is improving at the same time. If the ball bounces our way, hopefully we can get a decent run.”
Cotter also spoke of the competition for places highlighted by the return of Scott, who was omitted for the autumn Tests but forced his way back in after scoring 12 tries for Gloucester this season.
“It’s not what you say, it’s what you do isn’t it? And he has been working on things, mostly some of the defensive work he has had to do, staying in systems and make better decisions,” Cotter added.
“He has taken that on board, and it shows the quality of the man that he is able to accept there are things he is able to work on and he has got better at it.
“You can be strong and humble at the same time and he is humble, hard-working and his mental strength is showing. He wants to be here and he has shown his desire. He has got some great qualities and as we know in this game it comes down to a couple of errors that change results.
“If there is anything we have learnt in our time together it’s the fact that errors are the biggest contributors in wins and losses. If we can minimise them then we give ourselves a better chance.”
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