Scotland’s players were today assessing the wreckage of their loss to Ireland, a result that has left them seeking victory in Italy next Saturday to salvage something from a RBS 6 Nations campaign which has shown promise – and all too evident failings.
The 32-14 loss to Ireland at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin extended Scotland’s winless run to six Tests, gave head coach Andy Robinson an 11th defeat in 14 Six Nations games in charge and means victory in Rome is a must to avoid the wooden spoon.
Richie Gray, whose first-half solo try was Scotland’s one moment of undisputed quality, was again a colossus after terrific displays in defeat to England, Wales and France.
The Glasgow Warriors second row said: “It was probably our worst performance of the championship.
“We’re massively disappointed and we know we move into next week with a lot of pressure on us.”
Frustration has been the most frequently heard word in the camp since Scotland last tasted victory, against Georgia in Invercargill on September 14.
For Allan Jacobsen, the agony of defeat has been exacerbated by the small margins between success and failure, although that was not the case yesterday.
The Edinburgh loosehead prop, who has won 64 caps, said: “We played some good stuff and some absolutely horrendous stuff.
“We have to take a look at this but I can’t explain the performance – our performance in the second half was just unacceptable.
“In the games leading up to this we had been improving and we felt we still had it going but everything just fell by the wayside. If being involved in a performance like that doesn’t motivate you to do better than you shouldn’t be there. It shouldn’t affect us, it should galvanise us to do better. The prospect of a first whitewash since 2004 and a third Six Nations wooden spoon only serves to magnify the scrutiny on the coaching staff.
There is no doubt Scotland have improved in their three Six Nations campaigns under Robinson, but the statistics are damning.
Robinson is contracted until the 2015 World Cup and has the backing of the Scottish Rugby Union, but has repeatedly insisted his desire to shed the unlucky losers tag.
Might he depart? With Bath a possible destination? Only Robinson himself knows the final answer, but victory at the Stadio Olimpico will help to retain his belief that the Scotland squad are travelling in a positive direction.
Defence coach Graham Steadman has already been told his contract will not be extended, while attack coach Gregor Townsend will become head coach at Glasgow Warriors, after Sean Lineen was handed a role scouting Scottish talent around the world and reshaping the development of young players.
Glasgow, in the RaboDirect PRO 12, and Edinburgh, in the Heineken Cup, have proven the game in Scotland is in fine health, yet so far it has not translated to the senior XV. Scotland now have one final opportunity.
“It’s a huge game coming up,” Gray, aged 22 and now with 20 caps, added.
“In three out of four games we’ve performed really well in this championship so it’s not a case of going back to the drawing board, it’s sticking to what we’ve been doing and trying to scratch out a performance in Rome.”
Gray’s try – a solo burst from the giant second row, including a dummy to go by British and Irish Lions full-back Rob Kearney – might have seen Scotland go into the interval within one point. But Greig Laidlaw missed the conversion and Ireland wing Andrew Trimble scored in the last play of the first half before Scotland were kept scoreless in the second period.
Trimble and Lee Jones clashed heads after 62 minutes, the Scotland player leaving the field on a stretcher after being knocked unconscious.
The 23-year-old Edinburgh wing was set to be released from hospital today and poised to return to the Capital tomorrow following a “severe concussion” which is likely to result in him missing the trip to Rome.
Four other players are set to require further treatment: flanker John Barclay (ribs); number eight David Denton (shin bruising); scrum-half Mike Blair (shoulder), and centre Max Evans (dead leg), with Robinson set to name his team for Rome on Wednesday.