Cowan: Scots are getting closer
Scotland flanker Blair Cowan insists the Dark Blues' narrow loss to New Zealand proves Vern Cotter's men are on the verge of something "special".
A sold-out BT Murrayfield crowd thought they were witnessing history on Saturday as the Scots pushed the world champion All Blacks close.
Skipper Grieg Laidlaw fluffed a penalty 13 minutes from time which would have put the hosts on course for their very first win against the Kiwis after 109 years of trying.
But with that let off, Steve Hansen's Southern Hemisphere giants romped down to the pitch and grabbed what proved to be the winning try when Jeremy Thursh found a rare gap in the Scottish defence to seal a 24-16 win.
It was cruel luck for Scotland but having shipped 100 points and 13 tries in their previous two encounters against New Zealand, the evidence of progress under Kiwi coach Cotter is clear to see.
It was also the first time the Dark Blues had come within 10 points of the All Blacks since losing the 1991 World Cup third-place play-off.
Now London Irish back-rower Cowan believes that with another World Cup around the corner next year, Scotland can start dreaming of another run to the latter stages.
They have one final chance to hone their game plan before the RBS 6 Nations gets under way in February when they take on Tonga at Kilmarnock's Rugby Park on Saturday but Cowan insists there is no holding back Cotter's side.
He said: "You have got to be real about it, it was still a loss on Saturday. If you are going to accept defeats then you may as well give up there.
"We are bitterly disappointed with the loss but there are a lot of positives we can build on. It's not a negative loss if you want to put it that way.
"There is a sense that something is growing in this squad. It's very special and perfectly-timed with the Six Nations and World Cup coming up.
"But as quickly as things are built, they can be dismantled.
"We have to stay clear-headed and keep progressing. We have a big game next week against Tonga, so we have to get back to work quickly.
"We feel we are heading towards something special. We are a team on the up.
"The unity amongst the squad and the sense that we are going somewhere is amazing."
Saturday's match pulled at Cowan's heart strings.
Born and raised in the small town of Upper Hut, near Wellington, the 28-year-old turned his back on his hopes of ever pulling on an All Black jersey during the summer when he was called up to represent the land of his Argyll-born mother Joan.
In the days before the second autumn Test with New Zealand, he spoke about how tough it would be to stare down the haka while wearing a Scotland shirt.
But Cowan revealed he worked hard all week in the build-up focusing his mind not to let the emotions take over.
"There were all sorts of things gong through my head before the kick-off," he said. "It was an amazing experience for me - a lot of pride in myself for getting to where I am now.
"As I watched the haka, it was a bit of home coming at me and it was something I will cherish for the rest of my life.
"But once the game kicked-off I never let the emotions take off. It was big for me personally and I had a lot of family there too, so it was something I was clear about all week.
"I just tried to remember all the jobs I had to do. You do want to use some of the emotion but as soon as your mind lets the emotion take over is when you start making silly mistakes."