Six Nations 2016: 'Disappointing end but Scotland are improving'

By Mike BlairFormer Scotland scrum-half
BBC Scotland's Six Nations Extra

Scotland's upward curve in terms of progression through the Six Nations probably had a little blip in their final match against Ireland.

It wasn't that Scotland were poor, they just didn't quite match the error-free, composed rugby that was evident in the French game.

A few past concerns of discipline, kick-off mistakes and handling errors reared their heads as well.

The first half was a case of absorbing the punches and trying to hit back with the very limited possession that they had.

In truth, Vern Cotter will have been delighted to have gone into the sheds with only an eight-point deficit to make up.

Ireland were employing their 'loop' or 'wrap' plays very effectively and perhaps their greater explosive power in the forward pack was the key factor for giving them very good front-foot ball.

CJ Stander dives over to score Ireland's first try
The power of CJ Stander, Ireland's top ball-carrier with 22, helped give the hosts a physical edge

The defence was incredibly resilient though and it was only during John Barclay's sin-bin period that they made full use of their possession by converting it into points.

Physicality wins games and although Scotland made some very good dominant contacts it always seemed like Ireland were able to get a positive outcome from the carry, whether it was a quick ball placement or their leg drive post-tackle.

Scotland on the other hand lived off scraps, scoring 13 points from what must have amounted to only three-to-four minutes of possession in the Irish half.

Scotland on the other hand lived off scraps, scoring 13 points from what must have amounted to only three-to-four minutes of possession in the Irish half.

Stuart Hogg's try was another example of the quality of his broken-field running. The great thing is that defences know he is coming but can't do anything about it!

There's no doubt his counter-attacking will have been identified by the Irish coaches as a threat but the try was a beauty, picking on two 'piggies' (a Matt Williams-ism for slow forwards) and cantering over from 40m.

'Ambition and confidence from deep'

I'd be interested to hear what was said at half-time in the Scottish changing rooms.

Clearly frustrated by the lack of possession, Scotland started to play from much deeper in their half than we have seen for some time, trying to stretch the Irish defence but also limiting opportunities for Ireland to build phases.

The possession stats certainly improved but the attack from deep looked a bit blunt at times, going through the motions a little bit before running out of ideas.

It was interesting that as Scotland progressed up the pitch they looked more dangerous which shows how important territory is and consequently how important discipline and exit strategies are.

One thing about limiting the amount of kicking you do is that you don't create as much counter-attack ball or broken-field opportunities as the ball can't be kicked back to you.

The counter-attack has been a real strength of Scotland's too. I thought it was great to see Scotland playing with ambition and confidence from deep though. It was like they had said at half-time that they weren't going to die wondering.

'Defence undone by fatigue & concentration lapses'

Scotland flanker John Hardie in action against Italy
Scotland's John Hardie made 67 tackles in the Six Nations, second only to Taulupe Faletau (69)

Scotland's defence has put a greater emphasis on dominant collisions and there has been a big improvement in this area with John Hardie to the fore, ably assisted by Tim Swinson and WP Nel on occasion.

The concern though is that when Ireland got to within 10m of the Scotland line, there was almost an inevitability about points being scored and this must be frustrating for the coaching team.

The defensive shape has looked so good in large parts of the championship but has been periodically undone by fatigue, lapses in concentration or the opposition power game.

So, a slightly disappointing end to the championship but let's not forget the improvement we've seen.

This has been a good tournament for Scotland and something that can certainly be built on.

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