Scotland coach Gregor Townsend believes Scotland are on a similar “journey” to the one NatWest Six Nations Ireland have enjoyed over the past few years.
The Scots departed a Dublin still rocking to the celebrations of a third Irish title in five years after the ruthless home side racked up a 28-8 win on Saturday afternoon before France’s evening win over England sealed the deal for Joe Schmidt’s men with a round of games to spare.
Townsend was left frustrated that a Scottish performance which was admirable in so many ways was let down by wasteful finishing.
However, the coach was determined to view the events with a positive light and set his players the goal of closing the gap with the champions in the 18 months between now and their opening Rugby World Cup Pool A clash in Yokohama on 22 September next year.
“That [Ireland] group’s been together a while and they’ve had a lot of success especially at the Aviva over the years. That’s the journey we’re on, we’ve done well at Murrayfield and we have to make sure we take our chances when we play well away from home,” said Townsend.
“That was the difference, we played well, we didn’t take our chances.”
Townsend had said that he felt Scotland were three or four years behind Ireland but clarified: “I didn’t mean we’ve got three years to catch them up, I hope we can do it much quicker than that.
“This (Irish) team has a lot of experience together, a lot of players in their late 20s having come through together, winning championships being in last game deciders for championships.
“It’s been relatively recent that we’ve won three games in the championship, beating England for the first time in ten years. The more games we’re involved in that are close, or we win, we’ll get that confidence and take us to a place where we’ll contend more regularly, and beat teams like that.”
Scotland will now look to finish the championship on a high note away to Italy in Rome on Saturday. Depending on other results, a win there could seal third place above England and secure a second successive record of three wins out of five.
Asked if he felt that was an accurate reflection of where Scotland are at just now, Townsend replied: “Let’s hope so. That’s going to be a tough game [in Italy].
“They’ve probably had a red circle on March 17 for a while, that home game against Scotland. We’re just looking for progress, and that means from our perspective, we’ve improved in aspects and we’re a really tough team to play against.
“If that leads to wins even better, but we’ve got to make sure that progress continues next week. We’ve put a lot of effort into this championship and there’s been some highs and some lows.”