AFTER landmark wins on the road against Wales last year and England at the start of this Six Nations, Scotland have every right to travel to Paris this week in optimistic mood. They may not have won at the Stade de France since the Championship was expanded from five teams to the current half-dozen, but they had gone almost as long without a victory in Cardiff, and far longer at Twickenham.

So, in a season in which home advantage has been eroded if not wholly erased by the absence of a crowd, the trip to the French capital should hold no fears. The form of the home side, who still have a chance of the title, will ensure there is no complacency in the Scots squad. But Grant Gilchrist, for one, is confident that the Twickenham win in particular has dispelled any away-day anxiety that he and his team-mates may once have had.

“It will take a monumental effort from the whole squad to prepare this week, but if we can get the result over there it would be massive and a big momentum boost and a great way to finish the tournament,” the Edinburgh lock said. “We have performed well away from home in recent times. The boys won down in Wales at the end of last year’s Six Nations, and then the win at Twickenham - it shows we can perform on the road.

“There are two sides to it. We understand the size of the challenge, but we see it as an opportunity. There’s no reason why we can’t put our best game out there in France and no reason why we can’t win. We believe that, but we need to prove that on Friday.

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“It is a bit more even home and away, but we would relish the opportunity even if there were fans there, and at the end of the day it shouldn’t make a difference if there is a crowd there or not. It won’t go against us, but it won’t give us an advantage either: we have to focus on the performance.”

Scotland did that pretty well against the Italians, with the improvement from the loss to Ireland a week earlier being particularly evident in the lineout, Gilchrist’s area of expertise. The 52-10 victory had its imperfections, but the 30-year-old was relatively pleased with the way things went.

“I think it was a solid performance,” he continued. “We had to bounce back in the set piece, and the lineout and the maul was particularly good. And we take real pride in those areas, so I’m happy with that.

“There are things I could have done better in the game, but overall I really enjoyed getting back out there and starting a game. I’ve been champing at the bit since the start of the tournament, so to get involved off the bench last week and start this one was great for me. I enjoyed every minute of it.”

We will find out tomorrow whether Gilchrist has kept his place in the starting line-up alongside Sam Skinner, his second-row partner against Italy, although it does look likely given Jonny Gray has been omitted from the squad through injury. Whoever is involved on Friday night, all the squad will be looking forward to a break at the end of the Championship, and to returning to their usual lives after spending the last seven or eight weeks observing Covid protocols in a bio-bubble. But Gilchrist insisted that, while their movements have been restricted during the Six Nations, he and his team-mates have also benefited from spending so much time together.

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“It has been the hardest time to be locked down and not able to go home, but the boys have really got together and we’re loving each other’s company. We all miss our families, we want to go home, I’ve got a young son that I’m missing - but while we’re in camp it’s like we’re there with 30 of our best mates. What could be a really challenging time has been really good for us and we have got a lot closer as a squad. 

“We’ve tried to do different things and switch off from rugby as well as switching on. A lot of the boys play darts, so there has been a lot of darts. My darting game has gone from terrible to average, but I did fluke a 180 and I’ve been telling everybody under the sun.

“Hamish Watson brought out the old Rugby ’11 game, so we had a full-blown World Cup this week, which was good fun and took us back to our youth.”

Given the 22 years that have elapsed since the last win in Paris, Scotland supporters might well offer the same verdict about Friday’s match should Gilchrist and his team-mates emerge victorious.