SCOTLAND were given a not-so-gentle reminder of how far they still have to travel in order to be considered amongst the top rank of international teams when they went down 31-16 to an Ireland side which started slowly but dominated every facet of the game from the half-hour mark in Dublin yesterday.

“We’re a work in progress,” conceded head coach Gregor Townsend. “I thought the first 35 minutes was some of the best rugby we’ve played all year and that was probably above expect-

ations given it was a new team today – a new stand-off and a new inside-centre.

“We were physical in defence, physical in attack, finding space. The disappointing and frustrating thing is what happened in the 10 minutes after that.

“Yes, you want to see that long-term development and the team improving but you come here to win games and we went from a position where we felt we could kick on and go and win that game to one where the game went away from us.”

Most frustrating for all will be the fact that the penalty count against Scotland finished up at a whopping 15, with many of the decisions which went against Townsend’s men being completely avoidable.

“To have such a big penalty count against us at Test level, that either equates to three points or it equates to more pressure, kicking into the corner and having to defend on your 22,” acknowledged the coach. “If you do that too often then you’re going to either

concede more penalties or concede points.

“I think we were on the edge a few times. Whether it’s going for ball or being really physical, we’ve just got to know where that edge is because I felt we were comfortable in defence when we weren’t giving away penalties – and the pressure we were putting on Ireland was forcing them to kick, certainly in the first half.”

Townsend said he had no complaints about the yellow- card picked up by centre Duncan Taylor on the half-hour, which proved to be the turning point in the game.

“You take a risk when you’re coming up to shut down the tackle if the player gets the pass away, so we know that’s something where we’ve seen yellow cards given in the past,” he conceded. “Obviously, that put us under a lot of pressure in our 22, being a man down. Ireland had a lot of possession for that period.”

He had words of praise for debutant Jaco van der Walt, who kicked 11 points and looked comfortable at inter-

national level playing opposite the highly-experienced Jonny Sexton.

“He should be really pleased with the way he performed and that’s on the back of two

training sessions,” said Townsend. “To come in for your first cap on the back of quarantine, meeting your new team-mates, training with them for the first time, and then producing a performance like that – that’s a big positive.”

“There were a couple of

errors, probably from the excite-

ment of it being his first time playing at this level, but I felt he was physical in defence. We looked to move the ball wider in the second half and there were a few times we did get width and it eventually opened up space for Duhan’s [van der Merwe’s] try.”

Townsend, however, was satisfied with how this Autumn window has gone, despite the fact his team came up short in the final two matches when facing a step up in class against France at home a fortnight ago and then Ireland away this weekend.

“We’ve utilised a lot of players and learned a lot about them,” he said. “To see how they’ve fitted in at Test level has been really useful.

“We’ve learned a lot about our set-piece. Our scrum coach,

Pieter de Villiers, came in at the start of the Six Nations and had four games, now he’s had another five to work with the team.

“Forwards coach John Dalziel is also new this year and the way our maul has developed and our line-out defence…I think there are a lot of positives out of that.

“We’ve seen players in this

period who maybe wouldn’t have played international rugby

or maybe had many minutes and that’s been good for them, knowing if they put the effort in in training and come into our camp on form then they will get the opportunity.

“Now we want to see them take that experience and use it as motivation to play well for their clubs over the next few months.”