AT a sportsman’s dinner in Edinburgh a few years ago, an English comedian got to his feet and thought he’d take a chance with the locals when it came to his opening joke.

“As we all know, there’s a fine line between success and failure in international rugby. It’s called Hadrian’s wall.”

It got big laughs. To be fair, it’s not a bad line and as England only weeks before walked out of Murrayfield having scored 20 points to Scotland’s zero (you were lucky to get that was a later quip) in the 2014 Calcutta Cup, as abject a performance by the Scotland team as any of us had witnessed, there wasn’t much in the way of a comeback.

Scotland never looked like scoring and did not. Abject, embarrassing and criminal were some of the politer descriptions which appeared in our own newspapers.

The very fine English sportswriter Paul Hayward wrote that it was perhaps time relegation be introduced to the Six Nations because, after all, what was Scotland’s contribution apart from the odd win here and there. Even Italy, cannon fodder for everyone else, could beat them and did just that at Murrayfield in 2015

Hayward’s piece had various Scottish rugby writers and former players scrambling for the television studios to argue against his point.

As for me, I sort of saw where he was coming from. Every so often Scotland would produce a good performance which would either end in a rare win or, and this happened a lot, narrow but brave defeat.

Vern Cotter changed things, to an extent. There were still bad days; however, at least you could see progress had been made and last season, Scotland won their three home Six Nations games, where a touch unfortunate to lose in Paris and there was an awful day at Twickenham when everything went wrong. It cost quite a few a place in the Lions tour to New Zealand.

Things, at long last, have changed for the better.

Scotland are still capable of imploding, they did so in game one against Wales, but wins over France and England (yippee) mean Gregor Townsend’s ever-improving side will run out at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium this afternoon believing, not only hoping, they can beat an excellent Ireland team on their own patch; something which has not happened in the Six Nations since Joe Schmidt took over as coach in 2013.

There is a lot of good football taking place this weekend but pubs up and down the country will be rammed with expectant Scotland fans who over the past two years have fallen in love with their rugby team again.

Scotland are winning over the people. Now all they have to do, is beat Ireland on the bank of the River Dodder.

“The support has been fantastic throughout the championship and, in fact for the past 18 months to two years,” said captain John Barclay who has been nothing short of heroic during this period.

“I have definitely felt, I guess, warmth from the public and a real excitement about going into this week. I could see that in Edinburgh and the airport down in Wales. People were really excited for us so, absolutely, I can feel more goodwill

“The start of the tournament was far from ideal down in Wales. We knew the criticism we would get. But I said the very next day that we hadn’t become bad team overnight, so it was good that we beat France, even though it probably wasn’t the best game of rugby. Then obviously the England game was fantastic.

“We have stayed true to how we played the game. We haven’t changed it. The guys are buzzing. They know how exciting it is. They know the opportunity we have. But we’re also realistic about it and know how hard a challenge beating Ireland in Ireland is.”

Barclay, you can tell, is getting fed-up with dealing with questions over Scotland’s rather dreadful away record in this tournament. There is, of course, an ideal way for him and his team to change the narrative.

“It is bizarre,” the captain said when asked, again, to explain the results away from Murrayfield. “If I had the answer, then it wouldn’t be an issue. All I can say is we need to correct that.”