A Half to Celebrate Freshers’ Please

The day before Kenyan super human Eliud Kipchoge claimed a new world record by a whole minute and 18 seconds at the Berlin Marathon, 369 runners gathered to participate in the annual Crathes Half Marathon on a sunny September day. These runners gathering on the beautiful grounds of Crathes Castle weren’t going to come away from their experience with the same plaudits as the 33-year-old Olympic Champion, but would likely be fulfilled by a sense of great achievement at tackling 13 miles, perhaps as fast as their legs could carry them.

Finishing a half marathon is no mean feat, and this course can actually prove quite a challenging one if your used to smooth, flat road running. Several rocky off-road sections and some slight undulations can really take a toll on the legs, especially towards the end of the course. Apart from the pain, which lest we forget is an important part of becoming a faster runner, the scenery is idyllic as competitors race down quiet roads in a fairly flat landscape with livestock as their predominant spectators.

I had signed up for the Crathes Half a couple of months ago, keen to compete at a distance I had never raced at. It was only until a week before the event I realised it would come at the end of Freshers Week, seven days in which first years at university – i.e. Yours truly – participate in a fair amount of drinking. Feeling slightly rough on the day before I knew I couldn’t go out on the eve of the race and was given a good excuse to visit my grandparents instead.

On race day I felt fresher (no pun intended) and I think was slightly overexcited at breakfast tucking into some sausages. Probably never a good idea before any physical activity. I thankfully didn’t feel too bad as I lined up on the start line at Crathes Castle with my poor taste of music pounding in my ears. I’ve never listened to music in a race before but I think it helped.

Kyle Greig of Metro Aberdeen was first around the course in an impressive hour and 10 minutes, meaning he surely would have covered the first 10 kilometres of the course in under 35 minutes. I didn’t expect to be anywhere near matching those kinds of splits and knew it was key I remained focussed on setting a sensible pace. As per usual this didn’t quite happen and I raced out of the blocks, averaging around four minute Ks for the first two miles.

I soon realised I wouldn’t be able to sustain that pace and slowed down considerably finding a fellow runner and staying by his side for most of the race. I’m not sure how my new pacemaker felt about this. I never asked. This worked well and I actually managed to overtake several runners in the last few miles, seemingly sneaking past them as they slowed on sections that had a gradual incline. Having been quite lazy with my running recently my legs hadn’t hurt this much in a long time and in a way, it felt good as a remembered how much I enjoy pushing myself to my physical limit.

Managing a brief and painful sprint in the last 100 metres I completed my Crathes Half Marathon in 1:33:08. Not too shabby for a first time outing at this distance on the back of an alcohol fuelled, sleepless Freshers’ Week! Kipchoge may have completed 26 miles in just a quarter more of the time I completed 13 in, but I bet he didn’t go home and eat a big pizza. There’s no argument that his world-breaking run was truly inspirational though.

5 Reasons Why I Run and Cycle

1. It gets me out and about – Its hard to complain about the scenery where I live. A great way to see this scenery is to get out and explore it by foot or by pedal power. There is nothing better than after killing yourself on a brutal climb to be welcomed by a great view of the surrounding landscape. Even in the winter when it is very tempting to stay inside and escape the sub-zero temperatures, the scenery is spectacular. The snow patches on the Cairngorms making them look even more stunning.

2. It keeps me fit – I’ve never been one for worrying about my diet and have a pretty unhealthy one in all honesty. I either seem to over eat or under eat, never finding the right balance. Interestingly, research has shown that Infant PS and the following surgery could be behind the feeling of having an on and off switch when it comes to my eating habits. Staying fit has always been a priority for me though and not just because I want to be able to escape flesh eating zombies when the Apocalypse inevitably comes. Being physically fit has a huge effect on my mental fitness and makes me feel more confident in myself.

3. It makes me feel hardcore – There is nothing more hardcore than going for a ride or run on a miserable, freezing, stay-inside kind of Scottish day. Fact. There’s been days when I’ve gone out and thought I was going to die it was so cold. Having especially poor circulation in my hands and feet doesn’t help and family members have often been concerned by the weeping coming from the bathroom as my extremities slowly return back to their normal temperature again. I may not enjoy it when I’m out in bad weather conditions, but when I get home I’m left with a great feeling of achievement. Though I won’t be moving to Alaska any time soon.

4. I like pushing myself – Again this comes down to a feeling of achievement and satisfaction. I like improving myself and will often do the same routes time and time again to improve my times. I used to be obsessed with “Strava” an app used by cyclists and runners as type of social media outlet. Athletes record their rides and go head to head on segments based on climbs are around noticeable landmarks.

At the moment I don’t have the technological means to upload my activities and this might just be a blessing in disguise. I now much prefer to compete with myself than others, this being the same in any races I participate in. I love the feeling of knowing that I have just about pushed my body to the limit.

5. It saves me from poor mental health – This is where I find I’m often playing a bit of a balancing act. When I’m in good health and I’m enjoying exercise I tend to be in a happy place. Exercising is my primary way of releasing pent up feelings of anxiety, anger or frustration. When I’m not exercising I tend to not be in a happy place and can quickly fall into periods of feeling quite depressed.

This is why physical injuries like a bad knee infection and some recent swollen glands can have a significant effect on my whole quality of life. When I’m in bad shape mentally I often find it difficult to get back out and push myself physically. I can put on weight quite quickly and convince myself that I’m unfit. Running in particular has saved me from some dark places, particularity in my first year at university where dragging my weary body around the streets of Dundee just about kept me going.

“Braemar Folk” – Doreen Wood

It isn’t difficult for Doreen Wood to reminisce about her happiest memories in Braemar as she has so many of them. Growing up in Braemar in the 1950’s and 1960’s, she loved the freedom that she and her friends had in the village. She describes how they treated it as a “playground” and is quick to add that this aspect of the village is still similar today. Long, bright summer nights were spent swimming in the rivers Clunie and Dee or challenging each other to races up Creag Chonnich.

In her first 18 years here she admits that she never really gave much thought to the remoteness of Braemar’s location. It may have become more prevalent when she started secondary school in Banchory but she and her fellow schoolmates just got on with it. Leaving an often snowy Braemar in the winter at 6.50 am and not returning untill around 5.15 that evening, female students likely felt the cold more as trousers were firmly disallowed by the school.

At 18 years old she left her family home to pursue a degree in Sociology. A home which had been built by her great, great grandfather, a joiner from Dundee married to a local woman from Crathie. It was this grandfather which built the house where Doreen spends her time in Braemar.

Her family was perhaps most well known for Joey, a monkey which her uncle had picked up while working in Africa. This however wasn’t the first time a monkey had inhabited Doreen’s family home with two already being killed off by the harsh winters. Becoming increasingly frustrated, her father contacted Edinburgh Zoo for advice on keeping such an unacclimatized creature in Braemar. Using their advice Joey was kept warm by blankets and a hot water bottle and lived in the village for 22 years, becoming something of a celebrity.

It was while returning from university in the holidays that she met her husband Brian while both of them were finding work in the “Fife Arms”. It was this hotel which she can remember watching the 1969 moon landings from. Her other memory of a major news event being playing badminton behind the mews, the night Kennedy was assassinated.

Moving to Stonehaven in 1975, Doreen had an absence from work while focusing on raising her children. During this time she did however participate in amateur dramatics before becoming involved in hospital radio. This was seemingly a good fit for her and she sought a job as a continuity announcer for “Grampian TV” in Aberdeen.

Unfortunately she wasn’t given this job, but “emboldened” by this experience, sent her CV to the BBC and was given a three month placement on a farming program, reporting on the state of the cattle and sheep markets.This was a stepping stone to bigger things, and soon Doreen was providing radio news reports, playing a significant role in a new Aberdeen based radio program.

It was when her mother passed away in the 1990’s, that Doreen and her husband returned to Braemar to look after the house she had left behind. When discussing any changes which the village has undergone she points to the significant increase in movement in and out of the village. For many centuries many people would stay put, but she believes the increase in people moving to this picturesque Highland village in the last 20 years or so has been hugely positive.

returning to her true home. She says she has a “total sense of belonging here”, which isn’t hard to believe while sitting in a house which was built by her great, great grandfather all those years ago.

Many locals will also know that Doreen plays an important role in the community, being at the centre of many of the events taking place at the castle. This popular tourist attraction was at risk of being sold off before the community took it over in 2004.

Since then it has been a huge success and Doreen says it is a “glowing example that we (Braemar locals) can do anything”. When considering the many tourists which flock to Braemar, many thoughts turn to the ongoing renovation of the “Fife Arms”, a hotel which Doreen reckons will go further in making the village even more appealing for visitors.

A perhaps harder question for Doreen was about her favorite pastimes and hobbies as she is a busy lady. After a short pause she remembers that she teaches yoga and enjoys a bike ride every now and then. Though she is quick to remind me that everybody seems to cycle in Braemar and did when she was growing up in the village.

 

Highland Cross 2018 – Race Report

It is now Monday night and your legs are still sore from taking part in a 50 mile duathlon on Saturday. It was worth it however because you raised money for charities that do brilliant work in the Scottish Highlands. You also thoroughly enjoyed yourself and pushed yourself to the limits of endurance while travelling through some awe inspiring scenery.

Now its back to washing dishes though and your still pretty tired. So how did you get to this point. Well, 36 years after its conception the Highland Cross is still going as strong as ever with a field of over 700 taking part every year. Some choose to walk and cycle the distance while others, including you, choose to run and then cycle it. This is actually the second year you have taken part in the crossing across the Highlands from Morvich to Beauly, passing the stunning Sisters of Kintail and running through Glen Affric.

Organisation is a word you have always feared and has never ever been a strength. In fact its likely the reason teachers at school often became frustrated with you. Unfortunately a significant amount of organisation is needed to compete in this awesome event. Though fortunately the race organisation itself is top notch. To anyone participating in this event it is recommend to make a weekend of it. Take the option of dropping your precious bike in Inverness on the Friday evening to be transported to the transition point of the race after 20 miles.

Arriving in the capital of the Highlands, you will wrap your almunium bike, that you love dearly, in copious amounts of cardboard and bubble wrap while watching fellow competitors  wheel their carbon frames about. Its okay though because you’ve always believed its not at all about the bike and that the totally worn out tryes on your steed don’t make it easier to puncture. Basic science isn’t important right?

With the bike now at the back of your mind, as no last minute repairs can be made, you drive to Beauly where you will be spending the night with your team mate/mother in a hotel room. You have convinced yourself over the last week that the reason you couldn’t find anyone else than your Mum to join your team is that you are a maverick when it comes to running and cycling. You go it alone. Maybe its actually because you look shit in lycra. Oh well.

Anyway on arrival you meet with your team leader who you raced with last year. He is a strong athlete and therefore deserves his carbon bike (please write in), and has given you the great opportunity to do this event again. See you do have some friends in the athletic community.

The night before is less stressful than it was last year when you spent the wee hours pacing around your room and hoping you wouldn’t be using the bathroom as much when the morning came. Last year was more stressful as you really wanted to put in a good shift for your team leader to help him record a sub 5 hour crossing which you managed with 20 minutes to spare.

This year isn’t as stressful as you are purely racing for yourself, being given free lease to see if you can beat your previous time of 4:40. Training hasn’t been ideal and your health has been bit sporadic but you feel confident you can beat 4:30, not using excuses in a desperate attempt to provide a safety net for massive failure.

Feeling sick with nerves the next morning you force down some lumps of porridge which you are sure is actually a living organism, and head of on the 2 hours, 30 minutes bus journey to the west coast. This is where sheep have free will and the roads curve through towering mountains shrouded in low cloud. It is also where you will start the race.

Now standing on the start line your bladder gives it usual last minute reminder that its there, before the starting gun is fired at 11am. Your off at a storming pace and you feel great, strolling along a nice wide path through the beautiful countryside. At this pace you’ll get there in under four hours and you won’t even have to worry about finding a tree to take a piss behind.

Soon you hit the first climb and the legs aren’t the happy, reminding you there’s the best part of 17 miles remaining until transition. Slowing down you take water from every station you pass, commandeered by enthuasutic  volunteers with loud and encouraging voices. Taking it easy to the high point of the race you take in the amazing waterfall below and finally after an hour, relive yourself behind a small wall.

The descent to the halfway point is great fun and you revel in ploughing through deep streams which cross the path. Suddenly you are over two hours in and are still going well. You have munched through half an energy bar, finding out how hard it is to keep running while eating. Others are taking in gels and other food, but you think this will give you a sore stomach so keep going. You will regret this when your blood sugar levels drop through the floor after the race.

Its not long until you can hop on your bike and your getting excited about getting a seat of some sort. Your lycra is beginning to become uncomfortable and you want to start wearing it for its primary use, to protect your fruit and veg from the exertion of cycling. When running its heavy and feels like more of a hindrance than anything else. When thinking about all this you find yourself on the “Yellow Brick Road”, a seemingly endless hell of undulating double track which leaves cramp in almost every part of your body.

In reality this section only lasts five miles but it takes a lot of resolve to not start walking or stop. After a section of tarmac which adds to the pain, you arrive at the transition point to your absolute relief. This part of the race is brilliantly organised and you only spend five minutes here, changing into your circa 2012 cycling clip ins (I haven’t really grown) with the help of a friendly and patience race volunteer.

The cycle was great fun last year and you enjoyed it again this year, weaving through groups of slower cyclists and being passed by the quicker ones on the often technical run down to Beauly. It feels like your competing in a clean Tour de France. With your eye on the clock you power through the cycle in 1hour, 23 minutes, meaning your total time is 4 hours, 20 minutes. Success!

This joy at your time is short lived however, as you miss your team mates finishing as you pass out in your hotel room and sleep for the next three hours, obviously suffering from major calorie defiency. Both of your team mates ran storming times and you leave the Scottish Highlands with a great sense of happiness, hoping to return again to a great event for a good cause.

If you have been good enough to listen to my ramblings it would be awesome if you could sponser me a wee bit for completing the Highland Cross 2018. The work the Cross does goes back into the communities which play such a big role in helping the race continue successfully….

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/finn-nixon1

 

 

 

 

Glas Tulaichean Uphill – 26/05/18

Last Saturday afternoon I competed in my first ever uphill running race, it also only being the third time I’ve competed this year. It was actually the first time I’ve run up a munro which I found rather surprising when I think about it. The finish line was atop Glas Tulaichean, a munro a few miles west of the Spittal of Glenshee. Two of the most keen runners I know, my Auntie Marie and her partner Stuart, where running and had encouraged me to join them earlier in the week.

With my usual anxiety towards actually participating in races I desperately searched for a good excuse and as usual couldn’t find one. However, instead of looking for a bad excuse, on this occasion I decided that I needed to just go for it. I realised that I didn’t need to worry about placings or speed, I just needed to test my fitness by putting a good effort.

On race day Marie swung by the house and we chatted about the race on the short 30 minute journey. We were accompanied by my cousin, Katie, and our mad new-ish dog, Cora. It would be Katie’s responsibility to look after this hairy wrecking ball. I would be more positive about this good natured dog if I hadn’t returned home yesterday to find it had destroyed my Fijian diary. Don’t worry I can’t stay mad at dogs for long.

Arriving at the start line near Dalmunzie Hotel, we were met by stunning views up a valley with steep slopes, gradients I was secretly hoping we wouldn’t be attempting to run up. The scorching weather added to the beautiful scenery and there was little cloud cover in the sky. If I could survive running in Fiji then surely I would be able to cope with temperatures around 5 degrees cooler.

As it approached starting time my only real worry was some nasty blisters which I had on my feet.  I had counted at least five this morning, a result of running in new shoes which I hadn’t properly worn in yet. I had been forced to make a last minute purchase as my old innovates which I loved dearly had long passed there best before date. The soles were falling off and there was very little grip left. Not a good pair of shoes to be running in. This meant that my sole test of my new shoes had been 10k run the day before.

Apart from the blisters I was feeling confident, knowing I just had to give it my best shot. At 2pm we were ushered to the start line and the race to the summit started. The first three kilometres or so were raced at a high pace as we made our way along the valley floor to the bottom of Glas Tuilachen. With a race distance of seven kilometres, much of the next 4K was raced up a frighteningly steep gradient, made harder by the fact you could see the rest of the climb ahead at all times.

Passing through a river at the bottom of the climb my blisters had stung as water had filled my shoes and I really started to feel them getting worse as I slowly ascended the steep land rover track. I was maybe overtaken by four runners on the climb. I have a bad habit of starting races too fast. I was however motivated by the fact that I could see the runners walking like most hill runners should at some point. I am not one of these runners and like to continue running even when it is obviously more efficient to put your hands on your knees and walk.

I manged to catch one of these fellow competitors in the last few hundred meters, to take back a position I had lost. 50 minutes and 47 seconds after starting this 7.2 kilometre race I had reached the finish line. As I collapsed in a heap (okay it wasn’t that dramatic, I took a seat) I was able to take fantastic 360 views of the surrounding hills and munros, looking up the Larig Ghru and down on the highest peaks in Perthshire.

I was pleased that I had been able to keep running the whole way and hadn’t given into the incredible pain which I was now feeling in my feet. I was also pleased for Marie who smashed her 1 hour target by at least 3 minutes, while Stuart finished far ahead of me in a very respectable eight place out of a 44 strong field. I had finished 13th and had learnt a bit about my form with the Highland Cross approaching in four weeks time.

I had also learnt that you shouldn’t race in new shoes you haven’t worn in yet. Running back down to the start line with the others, I tentatively plodded along the land rover track as my feet felt like they were on fire. Returning to the car, I surveyed the damage and found lots of blood and some impressive holes in my heels. This had been a bit of a learning curve.

At least I have an excuse to blow the cobwebs of the bike this week! Despite the blisters it had been a great experience and again reminded me of the perks of racing in terms of being a good motivator to go out and put in the effort. Hopefully I able to get my running shoes on again by the weekend. Now where can I get some compeads?

 

Dess Woods Night Race (26/01/18)

On a chilly Friday evening my Mother and I embarked on another adventure down the Deeside Valley to participate in our second race of the year respectively. This time we would be stopping just short of the village of Lumphanan, the destination being a sizable area of woodland two miles short of where we had ran the detox three weeks previously.

This had been a race which I had wanted to take part in for while, taking place in my old training grounds, Dess Woods. These woods were located on a sloping hill, about a mile outside Kincardine O’ Neil, the village which had spent the first 17 years of my life living in. With lots of different trails to explore alongside steep climbs and technical descents it played in major part in kick starting my running obsession. Many a moonlit night had been spent testing my legs in these woods so I was excited to be returning. I was also excited and partly nervous to see how my legs would fare in a full out trail race.

After the Lumphanan Detox at the start of the year, my training had gone into a slight decline again, before I had reversed this in the ten days or so before this next race. I had been doing a lot of trail running, but had struggled slightly as Braemar had been coated by a relatively thick layer of snow for the last couple of weeks. I knew that I wouldn’t be competing for the top places but had the target of perhaps finishing in the top 10. I had looked at the times from the two previous years and thought this was a realistic target if I decided to really push myself.

As I had often been free during the day in recent months I hadn’t done much night running, an activity which I used to love. The fact that this was a night race also added a tinge of excitement as I packed my head torch along with my ‘Garmin’ watch that I had finally got to work!

On arrival at Dess Woods we met my Auntie and her partner and went about picking up our race numbers and safety pins. With our numbers pinned to our clothing, we studied the race route…

The route would be completed by doing two loops, with the first of the loops being completed twice. At 8.7 kilometers it was as hilly as I expected it would be, starting with a tough climb up from the Deeside Activity Park at the bottom of the woods, up to the gate at right at the top of the woods. After this steep fire track climb lasting about 900 meters, there was a slight grassy descent before a left turn took you up through some undulating fields.

When I had trained here I had affectionately referred to these as being part of the ‘sheep fields’ due to the creatures of a wooly nature which usually habited these parts. Great views up and down the valley where gained from this high point, though in the darkness the lights of Kincardine O’Neil could still be viewed, lighting up the valley floor to the east.

After a short loop in these fields a technical bit of the route would have to be negotiated, with an off-piste jump over a wall and a fence to access Dess Woods again. This was followed by an easier section which completed the first loop, with a long-ish descent, in which the route crosses the climb which the runners will have started they’re race on. The route then returns to being undulating, passing a waterfall which is another place which I used to love past.

Following on from the waterfall, is a very steep climb taking competitors on a windy route between the trees before eventually coming to a forest break. This break in the woodland doesn’t last long however, as after a short descent there the route rejoins the first climb, returning runners to the first loop which they will have to complete again before a long descent to the finish line which they will hopefully reach in one piece.

Having completed a short warm-up and taken part in some pre-race chat, I lined up on the start line, hoping that I would be able to hurt enough to finish in a position or time I was happy with. With my trusty innovates I decided to just wear on layer, a long sleeved top knowing I would warm up quite fast. I was also wearing running leggings to try and keep my legs and their muscles warm. If you can’t tell I’m very scientific when it comes to these details.

Soon enough we were off, with 60 so running being unleashed like a frantic group of wild dogs. It took while to find my breath, but when I did I surprisingly felt good on the first climb, deciding to push myself harder than I probably should have and by the time I reached the gate at the top my legs were already shot. “Damn that was stupid!”, my legs shouted.

Making my way towards the ‘Sheep Fields”, it was good to get out into the open, as the lights in the valley below were joined by a starry night sky. This provided an atmospheric background to some tough running over muddy ground which was as equally hard in some places as it was soft in others. At least ice was minimal! The fields where lit up by runners weaving between the old walls and rocks which littered the grassy surface.

After some undulation, it was nice to then get a long descent, on slightly interrupted by the hurdle section over a wall and fence to get back into the woods. On arrival into the woods I felt that there was another runner close behind and I fell back a place on the latter half of the descent towards the waterfall. I attempted to keep her in sight for as long as possible, but lost sight of my fellow competitor on the hard ascent back through the trees.

I was annoyed at myself for letting this happen but was slightly more sympathetic when I found out later that she was the current Scottish Hill Racing Champion. However, I realised I had to carry on pushing on completion of the second loop, continued to push myself as hard as possible up the final ascent of the race, returning to the first loop including the difficult terrain of the fields.

At this point my legs felt like led and I was hurting physically, but still loving it mentally. Again the view of the stars reminded me why I loved running in the great outdoors and I savored every minute of the squidgy ground as my head torch picked up the eyes of deer, rabbits and other creatures acting as the race’s accidental spectators.

Crossing into the woods for the second time, I pounded the long descent hard, aiming to keep three as the maximum number of people that had managed to overtook me when I reached that finish line. Reaching this target, I crossed the line in 13th. It wasn’t a top 10 position but it would do.

That had been tough but I there was no doubt that I was glad that I had taken part. It had provided me with another boost in my confidence and I was realizing that I needed to stop being so hesitant to take part in events like this one. I had ran the hilly 8.7K in just over 41 minutes, so was happy with my overall pace and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. My Auntie wasn’t too far behind finishing in 18th place while my Mother came home well of last position, a placing which she had been convinced she would have finished in.

 

Six Nations 2018 Preview

Including hopes as a massive Scotland fan, the form of the other nations and predictions for results and the final standings.

A bit of history

With the annual showdown between the six best teams in the Northern Hemisphere rolling around next Saturday there is a spring in my step as a rugby fan. As a Scottish rugby fan there is a slightly more positive feeling going into this year’s round of matches, coming of an arguably successful 2017 which included the first Six Nations since 2006 in which the men in blue won three matches….

The 2006 tournament was really my first experience of watching rugby, and a remember as seven year old being enthralled in the five weekend’s of coverage as Scotland recorded victories over France, England and Italy finishing third. After this first experience of moderate success I thought this was the status quo and couldn’t wait for the 2007 championship. This excitement came to a crashing halt a year later after a drive to Murrayfield on misty, wet roads resulted in a 37-17 defeat the Italians. Conceding three tries in the opening ten minutes was not a great introduction to a sporting arena which had played host to many highs, just not in my lifetime.

From there it seemed to go down hill every year as a Scotland fan. Most years we would usually either struggle to beat the Italians or spring the occasional surprise on England (2008), Ireland (2010, 2013) while losing to Italy. This often meant we were awarded the dreaded ‘Wooden Spoon’, the award given to the bottom team after the Scots had only managed one victory or even finished without.

Every year we would turn our attention to the other nations, watching jealously as the likes of France, Wales, Ireland and England competed for the trophy. Thought this was still entertaining from the perspective of a rugby fan there is a growing desperation to play part in the top half of the tournament. With no memory of the Five Nations victory when I was all but several months it has been rare to experience much in the way of Scottish success.

Recent Scottish hope

However, following an encouraging (and perhaps unlucky – don’t worry I won’t o into detail) performance in the previous year’s World Cup, where our hopes were ended by Australia and referee Craig Joubert in the Quarter Finals, the Scots had a relatively strong campaign in 2016 ending a nine Six Nations game rot with  a convincing win in Italy before beating the French at home. The campaign also included close encounters with England and France before being outmuscled by Ireland after a plucky performance. Things looked to finally be on the up under the tuition of Vern Cotter and as mentioned the Scots went one better a year later.

After beating a tough Japanese side that Summer before victories over Argentina and Tonga were followed by a agnosing defeat by Australia, (this seems to have become bit of a grudge match) the men in blue recorded three victories in the 2017 championship winning every home game. These included impressive victories against Ireland and Wales either side of a disappointing defeat in Paris by a brutal French side. However, the only let down was a massive 61-21 defeat at Twickenham to the ‘Auld Enemy’, a loss which a comprehensive last round defeat of Italy couldn’t make up for. This loss was comprehended by a 4th place finish as our points difference took a battering after the England game.

As ‘Big Vern’ packed his bags and made his way to the French ‘Top 14’ and Montpeillier, there was a wide sense amongst Scottish fans that he had taken the national side a long way. There was confidence that the entrance of successful Glasgow and former Scottish international, Gregor Townsend, would result in the continuation of this progress. In the following months it became obvious that the SRU’s appointment hadn’t been based on false evidence as Scotland travelled to Australia and gained revenge for the two previous defeats after a convincing victory over Italy in Singapore.

A loss to Fiji down there was the forgotten after it rained tries at Murrayfield in a 44-38 victory over their Pacific neighbors, Samoa. This seemed to back up the Townsend mentality of playing chaotic rugby with a focus on scoring lots of tries even if it meant the opposition crossed the whitewash a lot too. This victory was followed by a narrow defeat by New Zealand in which some awesome defensive work by the class act which is Beuden Barret stopped Stuart Hogg meters from the line in the 80th minute. ‘Hoggy’ was spot on when he said it was “bloody close” post match. A 22-17 defeat in the end.

I don’t think anybody predicted what was going to happen next. After the frustration of not quite getting across that whitewash in the previous Hogg was ruled out in the warm up for the Australia game. He likely didn’t think he would watch the Scots score eight tries against the Wallabies in a scintillating display against the 14 man tourists. In an amazing display the Scots put down a marker for this year’s Six Nations and that just about brings us up to date.

Form and Expectations

Many armchair experts in the media seem to be putting the Scots up there with England and Ireland but I would be cautious, figuring that we don’t suit the tag of being semi-favorites very well. First of all England enter this tournament with one defeat in their last 24 games under the masterful leadership of Eddie Jones with only a game against New Zealand surely providing a benchmark of whether they are the best team in the world (they haven’t met in England’s last 24 games). Despite criticism off some areas of they’re performance, you can’t argue that they aren’t hugely clinical.

Ireland, the only side to beat a Jones led England, should probably be seen as the joint or second favorites for the championship. After a disappointing campaign last time round, (defeats to Scotland and Wales rendered the victory over England as a consolation for not being in the running for lifting the trophy)  they should be following a successful Autumn with the hopes of treating the last game away against England as the decider this time round.

Moving onto Scotland’s other Celtic cousin, it has been well remarked in the media that Wales seem to be going through a transitional period. Their performances in the Autumn didn’t exactly set the rugby community alight, even if they were slightly more plucky against New Zealand and South Africa after a shocking display against Georgia at the Millennium. Though it must be said that a poor Autumn often doesn’t mean a poor Six Nations for the Welsh. Last year’s championship was mixed for them as well. Impressive wins over Ireland and Italy along with a perhaps unlucky defeat to England, went hand in hand with defeat to Scotland and France in a farcical 100 minute game in Paris.

It is my opinion that as we head towards the North Sea there unfortunately isn’t anything to get to excited about this year. The French who for long periods of time have dominated who gets their hands on the trophy, have been out of sorts for at least the last five years, winning it last in 2010 and rarely finishing in the top half of the table since. The cliché of them being massively unpredictable seems to have been altered to them either being very poor or pretty mediocre in their performances, a missed conversion saving their blushes in a 23-23 draw against Japan in the Autumn. Incredulously though, it is the French and I am therefore not willing to quite write them off yet.

Last but not least there is Italy, the long term minnows of the tournament who will be hoping to improve this year. Although I think an improved Italy would be good for the championship I don’t want to seem them beat Scotland like they managed to in on multiple occasions in previous years. There is a hope that former Harlequins coach, Connor O’Shea can work some magic after improvements in the Pro 14 and Europe by Treviso and Zebre. Can they avoid the Wooden Spoon? We shall wait and see.

The Predictions

With the bonus point system of last year in place this adds slight complication but I will try my best and look forward to seeing how wrong I am.

Round 1

Wales Vs. Scotland –  Hardest one to predict, but I think Scotland will break their duck of losses in Cardiff in a close match where Wales will get a losing bonus point.

France Vs. Ireland – Ireland started slowly last year and I think the same will happen in Paris with the exception that they will win in a game likely dominated by penalty goals. Victory by ten points or so for the visitors.

Italy Vs. England – The hosts will put up a fight for the first half but England will pull away for a convincing BP win after an hour at the most.

Round 2

Ireland Vs. Italy – Not unlike last year, Ireland likely to win this one convincingly with a BP.

England Vs. Wales – Won’t be as close as last time round but plucky Welsh performance will earn them a losing BP.

Scotland Vs. France – France will want to make amends for Irish loss but will be beaten in close high scoring encounter by Scots. Losing BP for French.

Round 3

France Vs. Italy – This may be the game the Italians target the most and I predict a close affair in Marseille. Losing BP for Italy.

Ireland Vs. Wales – Wales have often acted as Ireland’s bogey with last year being no exception. This year however I think Ireland will win by 15 points or more.

Scotland Vs. England – Hopefully closer than last year’s demolition. England to win tense encounter at Murrayfield. Scotland get losing BP.

Round 4

Ireland Vs. Scotland – Huge prediction but reckon Ireland will come unstuck in lively affair in Dublin. Irish to gain losing BP though.

France Vs. England – England to win in unconvincing style in a poor game. France to get losing BP.

Wales Vs. Italy – Welsh to blow off steam after plucky first half performance by Italians to get BP win.

Round 5

Italy Vs. Scotland – With championship hopes on the line Scotland to win by narrow margin in Rome. Italian losing BP.

England Vs. Ireland – Ireland beat English at Twickenham narrowly to take championship on points difference on dramatic last day. Losing BP for England.

Wales Vs. France – Wales to finish disappointing campaign with narrow victory over flat French side. Losing BP to French.

Final Standings

  1. Ireland – 18 points (4 wins)
  2. England – 18 points (4 wins)
  3. Scotland – 17 points (4 wins)
  4. Wales – 11 points (2 wins)
  5. France – 7 points (1 win)
  6. Italy – 2 points