Scotland can upset the odds in the Six Nations Championship – but only if they avoid a potential banana skin against Italy in this Saturday’s opening round, according to Gavin Hastings.
The legendary full-back, widely regarded as one of the best to ever pull on the Scottish jersey, was a central figure when they won the title during the Five Nations era in 1990.
And he believes Gregor Townsend’s side, who finished third in 2018, could be in the mix for the Championship again this year – with the advantage of having three games at BT Murrayfield.
But having only narrowly seen off the Azzurri 29-27 in the reverse fixture last year, Hastings has warned Scotland cannot afford to be complacent if they are to be contenders.
“Scotland would take having two home games to start with and Italy first up, but for me it is a potential banana skin,” said Hastings, speaking on behalf of Land Rover.
“If there is any team they believe they can beat away from home, Scotland would be right up there as far Italy are concerned, but we’ve just got to get Saturday out of the way.
“Then we can focus on Ireland in a week’s time. But, right now, I would take a one-point victory against Italy if that’s what it takes – that’s the most important thing.
“It’s not the way we necessarily play against Italy, it’s just about getting the victory. It’s important to get that momentum early on, especially when you’re playing back-to-back home games.
“They have to take each game as it comes because, let’s face it, if they were to lose on Saturday, it’s going to be a disaster, really, no matter what they do after that.
“I don’t see Scotland winning a Grand Slam but I can see them winning a few games and it only needs each team to knock each other off and everyone’s still in there at the end.
“That’s what you really want to happen. I would like to see Scotland in there competing with a chance of the Championship, but it isn’t going to happen if they lose on Saturday.”
Scotland have turned BT Murrayfield into a fortress in recent campaigns, with their last defeat at home in the Six Nations coming against England in the first round of the 2016 Championship.
And Hastings believes their formidable home record, along with the change in expectation from supporters, will only benefit the players as they look to emulate the heroes of the past.
“Scotland have done pretty well over the past two or three years and we’ve kind of built BT Murrayfield back up in terms of a tough place for opposition to come to,” he said.
“That’s what you want from your home stadium and you get the majority of the crowd behind you – I think Murrayfield has become a great place for Scottish supporters to back their team again.
“For a while, the supporters were coming along to Murrayfield hoping to see Scotland win, now there’s a real expectation about Scotland winning, and that was the same back in my day.
“When we played in the ‘80s and ‘90s, most people came along and expected to see Scotland win – there’s a psychology there, I think, if you’ve got the supporters feeling like that.
“The team senses that and it gives them an extra bit of confidence as well.
“I’d rather they say positive messages like, ‘We can win it’, rather than, ‘We’ve got no chance’ even though they have the second, third and fourth best teams in the world to play.
“They have won against teams that have been in the same position in the world rankings before, they’ve run them very close - such as the All Blacks at BT Murrayfield 18 months ago.
“They have beaten most other teams since then as well. It’s a place that they feel comfortable in and it’s right that some of the more senior players have an air of confidence about them.”
Gavin Hastings is a Land Rover ambassador. Land Rover shares and understands the values of rugby. @LandRoverRugby