Six Nations: 'Paris offers last chance for Scottish Lions hopefuls'

By Andy BurkeBBC Scotland at Murrayfield

The most satisfying moment at Murrayfield on Saturday came long after Scotland's eight-try dismissal of Italy had been completed.

In a near empty stadium, Dr James Robson stood pitch-side holding aloft a jersey with '250' on the back, a gift to commemorate the 250th international match he has been on duty as a medic. More than anyone involved in Scottish rugby, The Doc deserved to take the acclaim of the 67,000 fans that would have been in attendance in normal times. But knowing the man, a clean bill of health from his players, and a Scottish win, would be more than enough in his eyes to mark the occasion.

Scotland deserve credit for doing what needed to be done against Italy. After dispiriting losses to Wales and Ireland that sucked the air from their Six Nations campaign, this was the definition of a no-win situation.

Beat Italy, no matter the margin of victory, and the only reaction would a collective shrug of the shoulders. Lose and the world caves in on Gregor Townsend and his players.

What do Italy bring to the Six Nations?

The Six Nations was viewed not so long ago as the 4+2 Nations - England, France, Wales and Ireland fighting it out for the title, Scotland and Italy flailing around at the bottom like a pair of fish out of water.

Now it's very much a 5+1 scenario, and you are left to ponder just what the Azzurri are bringing to this tournament. It's six years since they last registered a Six Nations win. This season they've again lost five from five, conceding at least 40 points in each game to set a new record for number of points conceded in the championship.

Describing Italy as lambs to the slaughter could be considered offensive to lambs, but you can only put away what's in front of you and Scotland did it professionally.

Some of the tries they scored were joyous to watch, with Duhan van der Merwe and Huw Jones at the heart of the attacking thrusts. Though he'll have tougher defensive examinations to come, it was heartening to see Jones back in the Scotland 13 shirt he made his own in a spree of try-scoring brilliance at the start of his international career.

Duhan van der Merwe scored two tries in a one-sided contest
Duhan van der Merwe scored two tries in a one-sided contest

If Jones and Sam Johnson can finally both get fit and firing at the same time, it could be Scotland's most potent centre pairing.

The experiment of Stuart Hogg at 10 probably confirmed what many of us already knew. Hogg is a handy enough fly-half, but what he offers in that role pales in comparison to the threats he offers in his day job at full-back as one of the most devastating broken-field runners in the game.

Dave Cherry will have fond memories of his first Test start having plundered two tries, and it's further evidence of the strength in depth Townsend now has at hooker. It will be interesting to see how Fraser Brown comes through his return for Glasgow against Dragons. A strong showing could see him come straight into contention to face France in Paris on Friday.

It's an indictment on the quality of the opposition that in a game Scotland racked up the half-century of points, the review session Townsend and his staff hold with the squad next week will highlight several scores that were left out on the field.

Only Paris heroics will boost Lions hopes

In a Lions year we examine each Six Nations match in that context, but you sense if Warren Gatland has a choice on Monday night of watching back Scotland v Italy or tuning into the series opener of Line of Duty, he may have to give it some serious consideration. No individual performances against the Italians, for any of the home nations, is likely to register with the Lions head coach.

Hamish Watson was immense again. His stats of 120 metres made from 21 carries would be beyond belief were it not for the consistently superb standards the Edinburgh back-row has set. You'd like to think he is the one Scotland forward you can hang your hat on for Lions selection. It will take some special back-row players to keep him out.

Van der Merwe surely did his case no harm with two tries and a string of penetrating runs, but it's in Paris the Scottish Lions hopefuls need to press their claims.

A first win in the Stade de France since 1999 could well jolt Gatland upright and make him finally trust that Scotland players are capable of the step up. His concern, wholly justified, has been whether Scottish players are capable of digging out big results on the road. A win in Paris, to add to those registered at Twickenham and in Wales in the last six months, would go a long way to allaying those fears.

If Scotland players are looking for an insight into what's required to thrive and perform on a Lions tour, they'd do worse than seek out Dr James for a chat. After all, he's been selected for six of them.

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