Huw Jones: Scotand need five big displays to realise Six Nations dream
Huw Jones has helped Scotland hit the heights over the past three years but reckons the Dark Blues can forget about reaching the Six Nations summit until they prove they can perform to their maximum week after week.
With the attacking threats of Finn Russell, Stuart Hogg and Jones himself, Gregor Townsend’s team have more than matched some of rugby’s most dangerous teams.
Australia have been beaten home and away, while last year’s home victory over England helped lift some of the weight of expectation that has been hanging over one of the most naturally gifted Scottish squads assembled in years.
Jones has played his part in that, his ability to burst from midfield and pierce opposition defences leading to ten tries in just 19 Tests.
Since making his tournament debut in 2017, the Glasgow Warriors centre has tasted success against all five championship rivals at one point or another. Yet you have to go back to 1996 to find the last time the Scots managed to string any more than two victories together in the competition back-to-back. And until that changes Jones fears that Scotland will remain looking up as the others battle to reach the peak.
Asked if he was hopeful this was Scotland’s year to make a big impact, the former Stormers player said: “We hope so. What we hope is that this is the year that we’re really consistent throughout the tournament.
“Obviously over the last two or three competitions we’ve had some really good games but it’s been on a ‘one or two game per championship’ basis.
“We’ve then shot ourselves in the foot by not turning up for a few games.
“The ones to spring to mind are last year’s opener away to Wales and then away to Ireland when we had a lot of chances which we didn’t take.
“What we’re looking to do this year is pull out five quality performances and see where that takes us.”
The Scots’ opening fixture against Italy at home on February 2 certainly gives Townsend’s team scope to build momentum ahead of welcoming favourites Ireland to BT Murrayfield the following week.
Victory in that one and the cheers that soar around the famous Edinburgh ground may be loud enough to still have the players’ ears ringing as they march towards their final three clashes in France, at home to Wales and then down at Twickenham against the Auld Enemy.
“The way that people talk about us is down to the way that we know we can play,” said Jones. We want to take this side to the pinnacle. We want to be able to win championships like only a few Scotland teams have done before. Does that feel far away? No, I don’t think so. But consistency is the key.
“We know we can put out a massive performance on any given day and beat most teams in the world. However, the key to it is doing that for five games in a row.
“You see the teams that win championships and Grand Slams, they are consistent and win even when they’re not at their best. That has to be the next step for us.”
As well as consistency, Townsend must also find a way to translate the home form that has helped Scotland win ten of their past 12 BT Murrayfield Tests to their performances on the road.
Victory in Paris has not been achieved since 1999, while it is approaching 36 years since England were last beaten by Scotland on home soil.
“Nothing is an easy fix but it’s something we can definitely turn around,” said Jones of his side’s lamentable away form.
“I’d say the mental side of it plays quite a big part. You’re travelling away, you don’t have your home support, it’s a different environment.
“Although most of the boys have played at these stadiums it is still hostile – you’re out of your comfort zone.
“But we have won away games before and you just have to take the crowd out of it and put pressure on the opposition and make them feel uncomfortable in their own surroundings.”