Gregor Townsend sure Scotland can challenge in Six Nations

John Barclay (centre) celebrates his try with Byron McGuigan (right) and Stuart McInally
John Barclay (centre) celebrates his try with Byron McGuigan (right) and Stuart McInally
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Scotland coach Gregor Townsend has expressed optimism that his side can be genuine challengers in next year’s Six Nations after Saturday’s stunning 53-24 demolition of Australia rounded off a brilliant autumn series.

Following on from an excellent display and close defeat by world champions New Zealand the previous weekend, the record-smashing eight-try rout of the 14-man Wallabies has raised hopes of a first title since Townsend as a player helped the Scots to the last ever Five Nations crown in 1999.

The bookies still have England and Ireland as their most likely champions, with Scotland and Wales vying for third-favourite status and those two will meet on the opening weekend in Cardiff on February 3.

Scotland, who haven’t won in Wales since 2002, have had a habit of allowing positive signs in autumn give way to crushing disappointment come Six Nations time but such is the huge and obvious leaps in progress, culminating in Saturday’s astonishing result, that expectations can surely be based more on expectation than hope this time.

“Optimism is a good thing. I’m generally an optimist,” said Townsend.

“I think our players are too and we should be optimistic but we have to realise there’s a lot of things we can do better. Which is a positive.

“What we did [on Saturday] and last week should be seen as part of the process of improving but we’re not going to get carried away. Wales away, there’s a bit of history against us there and how we’ve performed against that side in the past.”

In contrast to the Scots, Warren Gatland’s men were this month well beaten by Australia and posed nothing like the threat to the All Blacks seen at BT Murrayfield. But Townsend tempered his caution with optimism heading towards that Six Nations opener in two-and-a-half months which will be followed by home games against England and France and further trips to Dublin and Rome.

“Wales will ask different questions defensively and in attack than Australia and New Zealand have,” said the coach. “We’ll have a lot of work to do and the frustrating thing is for a coach at the end of a November series is that we don’t have a chance to work with the players again until the last week in January.”

Townsend accepted that the achievements of his team this month can only lead to a groundswell of confidence and expectation in the country, but added: “We’ll see. International rugby is very tough, we’re playing against some excellent sides, seven out of the top eight sides in the world we’re taking on [in the space of a year].

“In this Six Nations there will be a lot of confidence and expectation but we know if we don’t get things right, if we’re not accurate, we don’t work hard then we’ll suffer defeats.

“It’s up to us to keep working the players over the next couple of months and use the cohesion advantages we have of having so many of our players playing in Scotland to really drive this forward going into that game against Wales.”