THIS time of year excited him as a player. Now as a pundit and punter, Chris Paterson is no less captivated by another approaching Six Nations Championship. And this time around, Scotland’s all-time leading points scorer believes the positivity around just what Gregor Townsend’s side might achieve, is not just confined to supporters of the dark blue.

The free-scoring Scots have captured the backing of many, their exciting brand of rugby – especially at Murrayfield – being one of the highlights of the last few seasons. And Paterson expects more of the same.

The question needed to be asked; even after winning 109 caps for his country, does he cast an envious eye in the direction of those receiving the acclaim within the current set-up?

“Well, aye – but I think everybody does. I think everybody who has ever played thinks that. ‘Oh, that looks great, doesn’t it?’ Why wouldn’t you want to be part of that. For me, it’s what rugby is about and we are very fortunate to have the players and the coach who want to play that way,” says Paterson, who doesn’t have to dig too deep in to the memory banks to come up with a time when things weren’t always as spectacular.

“I remember seasons where Scotland just couldn’t score a try,” says Paterson, who did not do too badly in scoring 22 of his own.

“I grew up as an attacking, running stand-off. Kicking wasn’t my game. But that became more of my game once I moved to full-back, or played wing. I suppose I’ve been pigeon-holed as a kicker. I’m not complaining,” he conceded, having racked up 809 points, almost half coming on Six Nations duty. “I had a great career because of it. But I just wish there had been more opportunity to attack or run.

“With Gala, I was a runner – find space, be illusive, be evasive, What I would describe as my natural game, but the reality was, after a couple of years at international level, that game was stifled by the way teams played, for territory and forcing mistakes, and kicking the resulting penalties.

“At times there wasn’t a lot of rugby played. The role of place kicker then was crucial, but games were dominated by the boot even in open play. That was the way the game was played then, around 2007 especially, when England reached the World cup final and South Africa won it. Tactically, kicking for territory, then squeezing out the mistakes.

“Scotland struggled at that time. It wasn’t for the lack of effort or ability or being unable to work an opening. We just couldn’t finish. I remember one season when I think we only scored two tries. This team, presently, can do that in 10 minutes. So, of course you’d love to be playing a part in today’s team.”

If adulation levels are high, then Paterson witnessed some real downers during his Six Nations career.

“Winning Calcutta Cup matches were great,” Paterson recalled, his first such occasion coming in 2000 when with only three caps to his name, he helped deny England the title.

“Those are the game you dream of, live for. However, there were a few downers. I took a loss in Italy – 2004 it would be – really badly. I was captain and took responsibility for the result (we lost) and the performance. That was possibly my lowest ebb, and might have been for Scotland as well.

“It couldn’t have been easy either for the supporters. I’d say they were always positive, but you could understand frustration, and the upset, if you are not performing or winning, and that’s totally understandable. I think they too will remember those days, and just enjoy this moment for what it is.”

Like those fans, next weekend is one he cannot wait for.

“Everyone loves the Six Nations because it is a unique competition,” says Paterson. “The focus always is, for an aspiring international, the Six Nations, because it happens each year, and, it’s probably what you grew up watching and what helped you fall in love with the game. I’d imagine that applies across the board.

“It’s like a season within a season. It so condensed, it’s so intense in the way the games come thick and fast. But everything is intense. The media, the scrutiny, everything is heightened because it is such an important couple of months. Anyone with an involvement or relationship in rugby, from coaches and players, to media and supporters, live for this time of year.”

For Paterson however, the demands now are probably greater than when even he played.

“As a player, everything is prioritised and periodised from when you train, and when you peak, and when you rest to hit your peak again.

“It’s very difficult for the players right now, and since the Autumn Tests. They’ve had four rounds of European ties, they’ve had Pro14 games, with travel involved away to Italy, and the back-to-back head-to-head games for the Glasgow and Edinburgh boys. That is really intense, and now you have all the expectation of the Six Nations. That is a pretty demanding schedule, much more so than when I played. But you just have to love it.

“When I played, and the guys before me, every game was real. It was hard, it was rough, but I don’t think you could say Test rugby 10 or 15 years ago was any less demanding than it is today, there are just more top games to contend with.

“I’d say where the difference is that players, teams, styles are scrutinised more, and the evolution of the game, with replacements, which keep fitness levels and power output high for 80 minutes, and the level of competition – be that at European or Pro14 or Premiership – has risen over that period, so you don’t get such a thing as an easy week. It’s all full on, and while that might make peaking appear less of a step up, finding another gear for Test match rugby isn’t so easy.”

Paterson recognises the gruelling format, but says he wouldn’t change it and was delighted when talk of amending the series was kicked in to touch.

He continued; “Seven days between Test matches – a remember, these are full-blown Tests – is demanding. You literally go in to recovery protocol mode – massage, ice baths, treatment – straight after a game, before you’ve had your tea effectively. You want to be running and training again by the Tuesday. If you are not, and it’s say the Wednesday, then you might be on a plane headed for Rome, Cardiff or Paris come the Thursday, or making personnel changes for those who’ve maybe called off, which means them knowing codes, moves and the likes, none of which really helps you get back to being 100 per cent for the next match. That’s why it’s key to get as much recovery and prep time as possible.

“From being buzzing at the start, by the time you get to week four or five, everyone is carrying knocks and bumps, you are can’t train as much, new players may have been introduced for a number of reasons. For those reasons alone, you’d find it very difficult to change the calendar.

“The structure to my mind is good. There was talk a year or so back that maybe you could cut the schedule by a week or two, and condense the tournament, but I think those ideas were from people who had no idea about the demands of international rugby for the modern player. It would be down to how big a squad you could assemble by the end, and that would be to the detriment of the quality. I’m glad it was just talk and ignored.”

For Paterson, while he hopes for a winning season, so much will depend on the start Scotland make.

“What’s good about this year is starting with two home games, sell-outs at Murrayfield. Yes, it’s a pressure situation, but all games are. But I’d prefer to look at it as having an advantage you can capitalise on, especially against the Irish, who are the top team. For that reason, making the best possible start against Italy is key. What is it they say about one game at a time?”