Wins against the Wallabies and a scare for the All Blacks - Can Scotland win the Six Nations?

Getty Images

Scotland have had little to celebrate since the dawn of Six Nations in 2000.

Having won the final edition of the Five Nations a year earlier, wooden spoons have come more readily than championships, Grand Slams or Triple Crowns in the 18 campaigns that have followed.

On only three occasions during that time have Scotland managed to finish in the top half, and they ended up bottom of the pile as recently as 2015.

But that season was their first under Vern Cotter and marked the beginning of a steady upturn in form and confidence that sees us arrive here, at the 2018 championship, with Scotland - now coached by Gregor Townsend - as the biggest threat to title favourites England and Ireland.

Following the winless campaign of 2015, Scotland almost pulled off an almighty upset in that year's Rugby World Cup when they were beaten 35-34 by eventual runners-up Australia in the quarter-finals - the Wallabies benefiting from a controversial late penalty to snatch a contentious victory at Twickenham.

While it was a heartbreaking result for the Scots, their performance demonstrated the ability, desire and belief required to cut it at the highest level, and it gave Cotter a something to build on.

Wins over Italy and France lifted Scotland to fourth in the 2016 Six Nations but a chance to gain revenge over Australia passed them by in the autumn, when a Bernard Foley conversion clinched another one-point game.

Cotter's departure at the end of the 2017 Six Nations felt premature given the team's progress under the Kiwi, who - holding back the tears - was afforded a warm reception by fans at Murrayfield following a 29-0 victory over Italy that saw Scotland finish level on points with second-placed Ireland.

The removal of Cotter was brought about by Scottish Rugby's desire to give the top job to Townsend, who had guided a Glasgow Warriors side boasting many of the country's biggest stars to the Pro12 title in 2015.

And while it may have seemed a risky move to tamper with a side making tangible progress, the early signs have been positive under Townsend.

That frustrating run of narrow defeats to Australia came to an end in Sydney in June - a first win Down Under since 1982 - before a record-breaking 53-24 triumph at Murrayfield in November secured two victories over the Wallabies in a calendar year for the first time.

A week prior to that momentous result, Scotland had come agonisingly close to upsetting the mighty All Blacks - Stuart Hogg stopped in his tracks as he closed in on the try line in the dying moments as Townsend's men were beaten 22-17.

With stars such as Hogg, Finn Russell and Tommy Seymour in their prime and confidence among the squad reaching new heights, Scotland will hope this team's peak is still to come.

A visit to injury-ravaged Wales and a home clash with misfiring France in their opening two fixtures represent two winnable matches that could give Scotland the platform to mount a serious challenge, ahead of home and away fixtures against England and Ireland respectively.

Townsend has said Scotland will need to play "even better than in November" if they are to win this year's Six Nations, but their form coming into the tournament justifies the ambitious hopes of those fans who dare to dream.

Even if they cannot pull it off, expect Scotland to have a big say in the destination of this year's championship.