Stuart Hogg knows the cold, hard facts are hanging over Scotland like a dark cloud but is adamant his side are not the worst crop to pull on the jersey in 60 years.
Scotland have suffered nine straight RBS Six Nations defeats and face a crucial clash with Italy in Rome today aiming to avoid extending that dreadful run into double figures. The run – which stretches back two years – is their worst in the professional era and is only surpassed by the luckless amateurs who went 15 Championship matches without victory between 1951 and 1955.
Hogg, however, sees real progress in Vern Cotter’s side, even if the end results have not made for pleasant reading. This is a squad, it must not be forgotten, which was unlucky to lose a World Cup quarter-final to eventual runners-up Australia last autumn.
And the 23-year-old is backing Scotland to grab the much-needed win that will spark off a revival in northern hemisphere competition.
The Glasgow back said: “Our performances have been fairly good but it’s a results-based business. We are definitely not looking at the record, though.
“We firmly believe Saturday is the start of something special. Getting a win would do wonders for us. If we were to get that win then I can see us winning the next two games after that (against France and Ireland) as well.
“We are dying to get that win and we have been working incredibly hard for it.
“Every single game we play for Scotland is a massive game, so for us it’s a chance to get a win and get some momentum going forward. The last couple of weeks have been bitterly disappointing having come away with two defeats but Saturday is a chance to make amends.”
Former Scotland scrum-half Andy Nicol reckons the duel ranks among the most important the nation will ever play, with Scotland’s credibility as a major rugby power at stake.
But Hogg played down the pressure mounting on Scottish shoulders, saying: “We concentrate on each and every game when we pull on that Scotland jersey. It’s a massive Test for us and this is no different.”
If Scotland have one omen on their side it is the fact their last Six Nations win came in Rome, with Duncan Weir’s dramatic last-gasp drop goal setting up a famous 21-20 victory back in 2014. That triumph was supposed to be the start of an upturn in fortunes but it proved to be another false dawn as they lost their final two games of the tournament before suffering the humiliation of last year’s five-game whitewash.
The run has lingered on into this season with narrow, but avoidable, defeats to England and Wales. But Hogg, who has just three Six Nations victories from 21 tournament appearances, says Scotland are now ready to grasp the opportunity to move forward.
“My memories of two years ago was that it was incredibly warm,” he smiled. “It was great to get a win with a lovely drop goal at the end, though. It created a huge amount of confidence both as individuals and as a team, sadly we just did not get the results we wanted afterwards. This time it would be great for us to get a win and build from there.”
Italy skipper Sergio Parisse, meanwhile, insists he is not arrogant enough to think the Azzurri are better than Scotland but is confident his side can triumph today. The hosts triumphed over Vern Cotter’s side last year in Edinburgh with a last-gasp penalty try as their driven line-out bulldozed through the feeble Scottish defence.That was sweet revenge for Scotland’s own late, late show in Rome back in 2014, when a 79th-minute drop goal snatched victory from Italy.
Parisse – who will win his 117th cap this weekend – knows another tight affair is likely to be played out in Rome but has backed his side to edge it.
He said: “It would be arrogant on my part to say we are better than Scotland in the forwards or in the backs. I think they are a really strong team but I think we are a really strong team too. I’m confident in our strengths. Everyone is talking about this game and how both Scotland and Italy have no victories in their opening two matches, so this weekend is a crucial match.
“In the past we lost against them here in Rome with a last-minute drop-goal but last year we went to Murrayfield and got a try late in the match to win.”