GREGOR TOWNSEND, the Scotland head coach, last night insisted his side can close the gap on Ireland before the two teams face one another in next summer’s World Cup in Japan.

Townsend sought to clarify his comments made on Saturday in the wake of his team’s 28-8 defeat in Dublin when he said that he believed the Scots were perhaps three years behind the Six Nations champions and Grand Slam hopefuls.

What he meant, said the former international, was while this remarkable Ireland team are well ahead of his side at this moment in time, the progress being made by John Barclay and the rest means the is confident that a year from now there won’t be much between the two.

"I didn’t mean we’ve got three years to catch them up, I hope we can do it much quicker than that,” said Townsend. “This (Irish) team has a lot of experience together, 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 10 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 the beat teams like that.”

Scotland finish off in Rome this Saturday against an Italian side as poor as any that has taken part in the championship.

Three wins from five is as good as Scotland has done since 1999, when they won the Five Nations, but Townsend will warn his players that Italy will have earmarked this game as the one they had a chance of winning.

"That’s going to be a tough game,” said the head coach. “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 I’ve mentioned before 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, but at the end of the championship I think we will be happy with what we’ve achieved.”