Scotland go into the Six Nations with an 'Under New Management' sign - Ralph Ellis says the impetus from a promising Autumn could help them spring some shocks as the tournament unfolds...
"When even French legend Serge Betsen is describing it as “a game that scares me a bit,” a price of up to 2.0621/20 for the Scots to win with a 10.5 point handicap looks like good value."
It is less than a year ago that there were serious calls for Scotland to be booted out of the Six Nations as not fit for purpose. The discussion began after they were thrashed 20-0 at Murrayfield by the Auld Enemy of England - and gathered pace with a humiliating 51-3 defeat to Wales at the Millenium Stadium.
Somehow the Scots avoided the wooden spoon when a last minute drop goal by Duncan Weir helped them snatch a victory away to Italy. But a combined points aggregate of 118 conceded against just 26 scored in the other four matches was cited as proof that rugby north of the border was no longer a sport to be taken seriously.
The argument was that they couldn't produce good enough players. Thankfully it is an argument that has floundered totally since Vern Cotter was installed as the new head coach. What was lacking, it appears, was not the foot soldiers but the right general to lead them.
Cotter's record since taking over is worthy of note. A New Zealand man with a superb club rugby record of success in charge of Clermont in France, he has brought those standards with him.
It's not just the wins over Argentina and Tonga in the Autumn internationals, or the exhilarating performance against the All Blacks that ended in a narrow defeat, but the exciting brand of expansive rugby the team have produced in those games.
Cotter has tapped into the Braveheart spirit of the Scots, encouraged them to believe they are capable of playing adventurously and that they belong on the same pitch as the other top nations. And just how effective he has been we shall see in Paris on Saturday night.
While most of the focus at the start of the Six Nations has inevitably been on the opening clash of Wales and England, the transformation of Scotland and how they fare against a restructured and youthful French side will be a fascinating sub-plot.
It might be asking a bit for Cotter's side to land odds of 5.79/2 to win in Paris, but there is every prospect of them going close. When even French legend Serge Betsen is describing it as "a game that scares me a bit," a price of up to 2.0621/20 for the Scots to win with a 10.5 point handicap looks like good value.
A country who were not supposed to be capable of producing rugby stars are suddenly unearthing a few with potential. The raw pace of Hamish Watson is capable of frightening any international defence while Hugh Blake is another with blistering speed who has moved into contention.
The Scots have been in the doldrums for so long - since 2007 they average one win per tournament in the Six Nations. But there is a sense of a real new beginning in this team, and they are relishing the challenge of proving their progress from the start of the competition.