by Brendan Cole
Scotland were something of a changed side during November and under new coach Andy Robinson are primed to make a mark in this year's tournament.
Robinson never made a fist of the England job, but he has succeeded pretty much everywhere else he has been in charge - notably Bath and Edinburgh. After a good opening trio of games, his stint with Scotland looks like being no different.
The pick of Robinson's matches so far was Scotland's heroic victory over an Australia side that made mugs of Wales and beat England fairly handily. That display hints at Scotland's future: this is a team that will defend incredibly well and be very difficult to play against.
But can they ever become a runner in the Six Nations race rather than a tricky hurdle for the big boys? It is actually not impossible that Scotland will contend if the championship were to play out without a Grand Slam contender.
But there are problem areas and Scotland will likely have to make an awful lot of tackles - and benefit from the odd slice of luck - to feature.
Scotland - lack an outstanding out-half?
Out-half, in particular, is a choke point. Dan Parks brings kicking length but a low handling and running threat, and Phil Godman is arguably not reliable enough to build a gameplan around. Godman is likely to start and perhaps Robinson will be able to get more out of him, while an improved threat out wide should also help him settle. Alongside Godman, the Evans brothers and Simon Danielli bring zest and penetration and Scotland have the guts of a decent, if smallish, unit behind the scrum.
However, the pack may struggle to create a platform for back play over more than a couple of phases and Scotland are likely to have to kick away a lot of ball. Granted, the propping is better than solid and Nathan Hines is a good campaigner in the second row. But the other second row spot and the back row – number six Alasdair Strokosch aside – are underpowered.
With half a pack, and a lack of good, positive attacking forwards, it will be no surprise if Scotland struggle to put teams under sustained pressure with ball in hand.
But they will be capable of pouring through the odd gap and with that defence looking like being a major factor a big scalp is on the cards.
Conor O'Shea's Expert View: 'Under Andy Robinson the Scots - district sides included - are really improving but they are still a few quality players in their backline from being the real deal.
Hopefully they will let loose Thom Evans and Simon Danielli, and they will be a tough nut to crack in Murrayfield: just ask Australia. After Sunday's clash, my hunch is that France will be thinking the same.
Style: Scotland will aim to play passionate, in-your-face rugby, denying space, time and momentum wherever possible. If Robinson manages to imbue his side with a little faith in its own ability, they can also keep the ball alive and produce some high-paced back play over short periods behind the scrum.
Three To Watch: The Evans brothers both have superb handling and elusiveness and, unlike the vast majority of recent Scottish backs, can convert chances into tries. Of the back-rowers, the hard-working Strokosch is a real handful and a perfect Robinson player.
Will Be Missed: Squad co-captain Mike Blair is left out of the initial squad due to an ankle injury and is unlikely to be a factor in the early games. Despite his somewhat tarnished reputation post-Lions, he has always been a good organiser and a breaking threat for Scotland.
Good Year/Bad Year?: Three wins is the realistic limit of Scotland’s ambition with Wales, Ireland and Italy the most likely victims. Defeat to Italy in Rome would make it a decidedly poor vintage for the Scots.
Fantasy Rugby Must-Haves: Thom (wing) Evans is the man most likely.