While he maintained that the methods Scotland are pursuing can bring consistent results against the world’s best, forwards coach Dan McFarland yesterday admitted that the pressure of championship matches has been a contributory factor in their failure to continue their free-scoring ways.

A team that scored 16 tries in the course of three autumn Tests that included clashes with both 2015 World Cup finalists New Zealand and Australia, has registered just six in its four Six Nations matches so far and McFarland acknowledged that facing opponents who have studied their methods more closely had caused them different problems.

“It does apply a different pressure,” he said. “Why does it apply a different pressure? OK, well when you play in November you play against teams that you don’t play against normally and obviously vice versa, they don’t play against you normally. When you’re playing in the Six Nations you’re playing against teams that know you well, or at least know your players well and, as a consequence, the margins are much smaller and the intensity of the competition is different as well.”

For all that Saturday’s loss by 20 points in Dublin saw Ireland emulate Wales by claiming a four-try bonus point when hosting their Celtic 
cousins, McFarland suggested that the nature of the defeat had been better.

“I still think we’ve shown we played well under that intensity. We had two marvellous wins at home, we’ve got a third game with an opportunity to go and have a win,” he said. “The Wales game was very disappointing. I don’t think the game at the weekend was a mirror image of that. We put in a performance in terms of intensity that could have had us in the game if it hadn’t been for the fact that we didn’t take our opportunities.”

Having spent close to a decade working on the other side of the Irish Sea he drew comparison with the way Ireland, under successive coaches, have been turned into a team capable of winning four Six Nations Championship titles in the past 10 years.

“It’s a building process. Ireland didn’t always play consistently, so gradually they get better; they put together a system they believe in; they play with it over a long period of time; they nurture the players within that system; the players become more cohesive together as they go through in that system and gradually, if the system works well, they get better and better and become more consistent,” McFarland asserted.

He also suggested Scotland had generated sufficient opportunities to win Saturday’s match, reckoning that four clear-cut chances had been spurned, with Huw Jones, Stuart Hogg and Peter Horne all failing to deliver what should have been scoring passes and he dismissed the fact that their opponents’ victory had been based on their capacity to win the lion’s share of possession, instead claiming an approach that works for the world champions can also see Scotland flourish. 

“Possession isn’t everything at all. Ireland play a possession game [but] New Zealand don’t play a possession game and they’re the best team in the world, they take their opportunities,” he said.

“You’ll find plenty of examples of New Zealand winning less possession than the opposition, just because every time they get it they score within one or two phases, because they can cut you to pieces. At the weekend Ireland had a good chunk of the possession, but we had plenty to be able to do what we needed to do. We had the ball for over 18 minutes. The opposition against Ireland have been averaging between 13 and 14 minutes up until that point, so we had nearly a third more possession against Ireland than teams average over the last three games. It wasn’t much less than we would normally get 
. . . a little bit less, but not much, but we didn’t make the most of it.”

All of which sounds good in theory, but comparison with an Ireland team coached by a pragmatic New Zealander who has adapted his thinking to suit the abilities of those available to him, is a reminder of why challenging questions must continue to be put to McFarland and his colleagues.