David Ferguson: Hat-trick of back-to-back away wins earns victorious team a place in history books

THE sound of history books being excitedly flicked through marked the end of Scotland's 2009-10 season in Argentina, with the most historic record matched by Andy Robinson's squad one that had stood unrivalled for more than 118 years.

It was in 1891-92 that Scotland last recorded three Test victories away from home on the trot, then at Belfast, Richmond and Swansea. That "record" may be a touch invidious as the international schedule has rarely allowed for three Tests back-to-back on foreign soil, although Ian McGeechan still rues the one that got away in 2002, when a Six Nations win in Cardiff should have been followed by triumphs against Canada and the USA.

Famously, the Canucks denied that hat-trick in Vancouver, a defeat made all the more galling as Scotland went on to beat the USA, Romania, South Africa and Fiji that year. Scotland had only twice before enjoyed a run of six consecutive wins, home or away, in 1925-26 and 1989-90.

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It is 26 years since the nation completed three away wins in a row at all, the 1984 Grand Slam team the last to experience the feeling as they won at Twickenham, Cardiff Arms Park and Lansdowne Road, with Murrayfield triumphs over England and France, and a draw with the All Blacks included in that run.

However, as Robinson, his skipper Alastair Kellock and their troops savour becoming the first in Scottish rugby history to claim a Test series win anywhere, 50 years after the country embarked on its first full Test tour below the equator, they also awake this morning to the news that they have returned to a world ranking of seventh, the highest since the official IRB rankings began in 2003.

Had Australia beaten England, and convincingly, it would have been sixth, but returning inside the world's top eight is a good measure of improvement with which to conclude Robinson's first year as Scotland's head coach.

There is also a different feel about Scotland's rise to seventh this time, because it has been earned. In June 2006 Scotland found themselves rising despite losing. While Frank Hadden's side were losing in South Africa in the summer, Argentina were beating Wales on successive Test weekends. The gulf between Scotland and the Springboks was such (eighth to second) that their Tests had no impact on Scottish ranking points, but the Pumas had been ranked well behind Wales and so the Welsh tumbled below Scotland.

Bizarrely, Scotland won their next game, against Romania in November, 2006, but fell down the rankings, again due to Argentina. Robinson will remember better than anyone why that was as his England side slumped to a 25-18 defeat to the Pumas at Twickenham, a result that hoisted Argentina from ninth place to sixth, and dropped England, Scotland and Wales back a place. It also sounded the end for Robinson's tenure as England coach.

That was when Argentina were moving into third gear in the world game, beating Italy and Ireland and losing by a solitary point to France en route to the World Cup, and an eventual third place in the tournament and third in the world rankings.

Why that is relevant now is that the IRB used the rankings from the following year to determine the seeds for the 2011 Rugby World Cup. It was an attempt to ensure teams were more accurately seeded, but was in fact nonsense. Scotland are among those who could reap the most benefit though.

The Pumas were plucked from the top seeds of 1-4 world rankings, England from the second group. England now sit precariously above the Scots in sixth with the Pumas below in eighth.

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Martin Johnson's side have improved down under, but still have much work in the next year to create a team with serious World Cup aspirations while Argentina face a tough 14 months to halt a steady decline since the last tournament before heading for New Zealand in 2011.

Scotland are far from a world-class outfit, but they are improving and there were signs in the past fortnight that the sum of this squad could be greater than the products of the last few seasons. Still a relatively young squad, it is beginning to understand the demands of a new, more experienced coaching team (Robinson and Graham Steadman are further ahead in their careers than were Hadden, Alan Tait and George Graham); one that is developing a steely backbone and knowledge of how to grind out victories.

They require a more potent finish, but again signs of greater creativity and unpredictability are emerging.

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