Scotland travel to Dublin this Saturday to take on Ireland in round four of this year’s Six Nations championship. After an opening day loss in Cardiff to Wales, Scotland hit back with victories over France and England - and a first Calcutta Cup win in a decade.
As things stand, Scotland could still snatch the title if everything goes their way.
Gregor Townsend’s men currently lie third in the table, with eight points, one behind England on nine points (with one bonus point) while Ireland are top with 14 points and two BPs.
In the unlikely event of the top two teams tying on total points, the title is decided on points difference. If that too is level, the team with the most tries takes the title.
So, how can Scotland seal an unlikely maiden Six Nations title?
Take nine points from their remaining two matches
The introduction of the bonus point system in 2017’s Six Nations has made things a little bit harder for Scotland.
Gregor Townsend’s men must beat Ireland in Dublin, and follow it up with a bonus point victory over Italy in Rome by scoring four or more tries, to have any hope of taking the title.
However, Scotland haven’t beaten the Irish in Dublin since 2010 - when Dan Parks slotted over a late penalty to edge the game 23-20 in the final Six Nations match at Croke Park - and that result was Scotland’s first victory on Irish soil for 12 years and, to date, their only Six Nations win in Ireland. Victory in Dublin would appear to be a tall order.
Beating Italy in Rome is by no means straightforward, either.
The Azzurri have form for winning on Italian soil, recording consecutive home wins against France (22-21 in 2011, and 23-18 in 2013) while they also defeated Ireland 22-15 in the 2013 Championship.
Count on England to beat Ireland
Ireland are in the driving seat for both the Grand Slam and the Six Nations title. Their remaining two games are against the Scots in Dublin, and England at Twickenham.
If Joe Schmidt’s team win both games, the Grand Slam and title (and Triple Crown) are in the bag.
They could even have the Championship sewn up before they travel to London if they can rack up a bonus point win over Scotland, and England fail to do the same against France in Paris.
However, the English haven’t lost a Six Nations match at Twickenham since a 19-12 loss to Wales in 2012 and although the Irish beat England last year, they haven’t won in London in eight years.
If England record a bonus point win over France but Ireland fail to beat Scotland with a BP win then the Twickenham showdown could be very tasty indeed.
Hope England lose to France
If hoping to beat the Irish in their own back yard was a tall order, banking on the French to beat England could be even bigger still.
Jacques Brunel’s side have endured a fairly miserable campaign so far, and even their comfortable win over Italy was peppered with nervy mistakes.
Wounded by their Calcutta Cup defeat in Edinburgh, England will go into the penultimate fixture in France with all guns blazing and, in all likelihood needing a bonus point win, will be targeting a comprehensive victory.
Still, the Six Nations does throw up the odd surprise, and this year’s competition has been fairly even so far, so while a French victory looks highly unlikely, you never know.
Is it doable?
The elements in Scotland’s hands are doable, yes. Scotland weren’t unanimously backed to beat England and still pulled off a fine win. It’s true that Scotland’s away record in the tournament isn’t one to write home about, but Townsend has held one-to-one talks with his players in a bid to root out the problem. He highlighted Scotland’s victory over Australia in Sydney last year, and individual successes of Scotland players in club matches played on the Emerald Isle as reasons to be positive, while vowing to use the heavy defeat in Cardiff against Wales as inspiration to get a result in Dublin, to “get it right”.
The harsh reality is that Scotland need a large amount of good fortune for all results to go their way. Not only must they beat the Irish and secure a BP win over Italy, they need an out-of-sorts France to do them a favour against England, and a strong Irish side to falter at fortress Twickenham in the final round.
The Scotland camp’s primary aim has to be victory in Dublin. A first win on Irish soil for eight years, along with the first Calcutta Cup win in a decade and wins over France and (hopefully) Italy - regardless of other results - would amount to a decent performance in the tournament. But we can still dream, can’t we?