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Fan ban poses different test

Will numbers add up for Scotland in Six Nations?

Test: Gregor Townsend (pic: SNS Group)

It’s not the scenario Dominic McKay would have envisaged for his last Six Nations Championship as Scottish Rugby’s chief operating officer.

Widely credited with helping make the international scene more attractive to fans during his five years in the post, he took great pride in hailing sell-out after sell-out at Murrayfield, with a string of capacity crowds helping swell the SRU’s bank balance considerably.

It’s ironic, therefore, that as he prepares to clear his desk after agreeing to replace Peter Lawwell as Celtic chief executive in the summer, this year’s Covid-hit Six Nations could be contested in empty stadia.

The Scots’ tournament opener against holders England at Twickenham on Saturday will take place behind closed doors, as will their first home match of the championship against Wales on 13 February. The visits of Italy and Ireland to Edinburgh remain “under review” amid the pandemic but whatever happens, it’s evident this year’s Six Nations will be different to any other.

With the real prospect of no fans allowed inside Murrayfield until the summer, McKay will be keeping an eye on the finances in the coming months.

Head coach Gregor Townsend has had to prepare his squad against the backdrop of the coronavirus crisis and will be hoping his own calculations add up as he looks to improve on last year’s fourth-place finish.

How his players perform without a packed Murrayfield roaring them on will dictate the success of their campaign. And with the British and Irish Lions scheduled to face South Africa this year, there is plenty incentive to do well.

First up, though, is favourites England, a team they haven’t beaten at Twickenham since 1983, and the lack of atmosphere could help Scotland, as the experienced Fraser Brown acknowledged.

“It is a very difficult place to play,” said the 54-times capped hooker.

“England, under Eddie Jones, start tournaments quickly, start games quickly. But perhaps not having that baying mob pushing them on in the first 20 minutes could let Scotland come out of the blocks strongly.

“A large part of that England team hasn’t played rugby in two months, the Saracens contingent. It doesn’t matter how much fitness you do, there’s nothing quite like playing.

“I think it’s an opportunity for Scotland, off the back of where the team started the last Six Nations, being really difficult to beat, difficult to break down. Probably what we need to do now is add a bit more creativity.”

Townsend will name his team at lunchtime on Thursday and central to Scotland’s chances of beating last year’s three wins will be the contributions of talisman Finn Russell.

The No. 10 was dropped 12 months ago after breaching team protocols and was then sidelined in November after injuring his groin against Wales.

“He’s an outstanding player who has a lot more to bring and achieve,” said Townsend, whose team drew 38-38 in an epic encounter at Twickenham two years ago. “We’re looking forward to working with him again.

“Over the next five games we’ve got to put in our best performances because we will be tested. There is no bigger test than going to Twickenham. So that’s what we are working towards.”

The curtain goes up on this year’s championship with Italy hosting France in Rome’s Stadio Olimpico in the early kick-off on Saturday before all eyes turn to south London.

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