While the Six Nations campaign may not have ended exactly in the manner we wanted, it was still a step in the right direction as we managed three victories for only the second time since the Championships expanded to six sides. Duncan Smith looks back on the defining moments from the 2016 campaign
1) Barclay’s turnover v Ireland
Scotland had roared into a handsome half-time lead against the Irish on the opening weekend at BT Murrayfield but the second-half response from the visitors was ferocious and threatening to condemn the home side to what would have been a demoralising defeat. As the closing ten minutes approached and Ireland now having moved into a slender lead and pressing hard for a killer blow, Scarlets flanker John Barclay stripped possession from the green jerseys to stem the flow. The Scots regrouped, got back up the field and skipper Greig Laidlaw kicked a couple of penalties to end the 11-year wait for a round one victory. Barclay started this match on the bench but was back in the starting XV the following week and ended up assuming the captaincy.
2) Laidlaw’s injury v France
Scotland were well in this game for long periods in Paris but the loss of their on-field leader inside the half-hour, shortly followed by vice-captain Barclay, led to a loss of organisation which proved costly at the end of the game. Laidlaw’s ankle injury would end his tournament and, while Barclay and Jonny Gray provided excellent back-up, there is no doubting the scrum-half was a big loss. Had he stayed fit the game at the Stade de France could well have been won and the collapse at Twickenham would perhaps have been less ugly. When Laidlaw’s face appeared on the TV screens near the end of the final game against Italy there was a huge ovation from the crowd, which proved what a popular and appreciated skipper the Gloucester player has become over the last couple of years.
3) Visser’s tackle on Rhys Webb v Wales
The recalled Tim Visser scored a try and made a try in this thrilling victory over the Welsh on the pivotal middle weekend, but it was arguably the try he saved which contributed most to the win. Webb was Wales’ most menacing player on the day and, at a time when the men in red were looking to take control in the second half, it looked like the scrum-half had squeezed in at the corner for what would have been a bodyblow score. However, the TV replays showed that Visser had just got his man into touch, capping what had been a fine defensive display in which the Harlequins player had shackled George North.
4) Fraser Brown’s yellow card v England
If Scotland were to end their 34-year wait for a win at Twickenham, take the Triple Crown for the first time since 1990 and give themselves a shot at the title, they needed everything to go their way from the start. Brown’s sin-binning in the opening two minutes was the exact opposite of that and England exploited the advantage immediately to forge an early 13-0 platform for what unfolded into a grim 61-21 hiding. The blame doesn’t lie solely with the hooker as defensive frailties, a poor display by stand-off Finn Russell, more injuries to key men like Stuart Hogg and Tommy Seymour, not to mention a superb England display, contributed to the misery. That yellow card did, however, set an unfortunate tone.
5) The hint of a tear from Cotter v Italy
For a man who has kept his emotions very much under wraps during his three years in charge of Scotland it came as quite a shock to see Vern Cotter wipe away some moisture from his eye as he took a rapturous acclaim from the sell-out BT Murrayfield crowd after the final 29-0 win over Italy. It provided the perfect swansong for a man who has presided over clear improvement to this Scotland team and the reception he received from the fans afterwards was a welcome show of appreciation for what has, on the whole, been a job well done. He will be missed.