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Page last updated at 15:15 GMT, Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Scots need spirit of 1999

Scotland captain Mike Blair in action against Wales

By David McDaid

It's 10 years since Scotland last finished top of the table in Europe's annual battle for rugby supremacy.

To put it in context, the tournament was still just the Five Nations back then with Italy not joining the party until 2000.

A team containing the likes of Gregor Townsend, Gary Armstrong, Scott Murray and Eric Peters lost narrowly to England but beat France, Ireland and Wales to claim the title for the first time since 1990.

The Scots have not been crowned champions since, but there is a sense of optimism ahead of this year's opener against Wales on Sunday.

Hooker Gordon Bulloch was a key member of Jim Telfer's team that triumphed emphatically at the Stade de France in 1999.

"We had a good side and a settled side and we managed to keep the continuity going right through," he told BBC Scotland.

"There was a good blend of youth and experience, especially in the backs. We had Gregor at stand-off and Alan Tait and John Leslie in the centres as well."

Townsend started the campaign in the centre, but a broken leg for Duncan Hodge in the opener saw him move to fly-half and he proved a revelation with a try in every game.

"Over the years, our pack could create ball, but we just didn't always have the nous to score the tries," added Bulloch.

"That year we did. We just clicked as a side and managed to score tries with the ball we got."

Mike Blair has the ability to change a game and inspire confidence around him... he's key for Scotland in this championship

Former Scotland captain Gordon Bulloch
Defeat away to England was the only blot on that campaign, which was decided when the unfancied Welsh beat the English by a single point at their temporary Wembley home.

That left the Scots as champions by virtue of points scored, but how does the current crop compare with that of 10 years ago?

"They have lot of potential although I think head coach Frank Hadden would kill for some of the experience we had in 1999," said Bulloch.

"But the guys now are starting to rack up the caps and it's now up to them to show it.

"The Edinburgh back line is performing really well, and out wide there's the experience of Hugo Southwell and Chris Paterson.

"We've got the players and competition for places, which breeds a real eagerness. It could be a memorable year."

Bulloch's performances at hooker earned him inclusion in the World XV that year. He later went on to captain the national team, and he believes the current skipper and scrum-half is pivotal to any success in this year's Six Nations.

"Being captain is a huge role and Mike Blair has got to be out there leading from the front," he added.

"He has the ability to change a game and inspire confidence around him. He's playing exceptionally well just now and he's key for Scotland in this championship.

Gordon Bulloch in action for Scotland
Bulloch won 75 caps for Scotland and toured with the Lions

"Team spirit is so important to a successful Six Nations. The squad are together for the duration. You've got to know when to have fun, but also knuckle down and do the hard work.

"It's important that Mike controls things. It can't always be the job of coaches - it has to be player-led.

"But we've also got Euan Murray who's produced at international level, and Ross Ford can step up with his physicality and skill."

Sunday's opener against the reigning champions could scarcely be tougher. The former British & Irish Lion believes it is vital to build momentum with a good result.

"Wales have always been confidence-driven, and that'll be sky-high as they were the only side to beat southern hemisphere opposition during the autumn Tests when they won against Australia," said Bulloch.

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"But Scotland have a pack that can really do damage at the set piece. We took New Zealand and South Africa on at the scrum.

"To beat the Welsh, our line-out's really got to match up in order to give the backs the ball they need, and give them the front foot on defence.

"Wales will launch a lot of attacks, they'll spin the ball wide, so if we can get their scrum creaking slightly, pinch the ball at the line-out so that their hooker doesn't know where to throw, then we have a good chance.

"It would be a wonderful achievement to repeat the feat of the 1999 side - and to win a Grand Slam would be absolutely fabulous.

"I think Scotland can do it, but a lot has got to go right for us, and if you can get the break of the ball going your way, suddenly you've got every confidence."



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