THERE are worse things than being gallant losers. Being hopelessly underachieving losers, for one.

Any analysis of Scotland’s 19-12 loss to Ireland on Saturday surely has to begin with that comparison. Yes, it was a defeat that was riddled with unnecessary errors and costly lapses in concentration and discipline, and that made it a hugely frustrating performance. But compared to the 27-3 loss to the Irish just a few months ago at the World Cup, it was a significantly improved display in many respects.

For a start, if Gregor Townsend really had lost the dressing room or significant parts of it in Japan, he appears to have rediscovered it. Although deprived of the huge collective experience of Greig Laidlaw, John Barclay, Tommy Seymour and Finn Russell since the World Cup, this Scotland team played with real commitment and determination. Their self-belief faltered at times, hence the wrong options and needless penalties, but this still looked like a side who had bought into the game plan and were hell-bent on turning it into reality.

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They had the edge in the scrum, where Rory Sutherland made a telling contribution at loosehead on his return to the team after more than three years. Their defence was much improved, with Hamish Watson, invalided home early from Japan, making a telling contribution at the breakdown. And they showed real threat in attack, particularly through inside centre Sam Johnson, who is now surely the first name in the three-quarter line to be inked in when the team is selected.

Supporters have every right to grumble that a loss is a loss, but coaches do not have that luxury, and with the England game coming up on Saturday, Townsend will be able to build on those and other positives from Dublin. But of course, he will take a nuanced approach, and in training this week will address the negatives too.

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Johnson was far from being the only player to blot his copybook with a gratuitous penalty. The lineout, even allowing for the prowess of Ireland’s Iain Henderson and James Ryan, malfunctioned too often. The defence conceded the Jonny Sexton try too easily. And of course Stuart Hogg’s wretched mistake was a massive blow.

Scotland probably played closer to their best form than Ireland did, but that does not mean they deserved to win. Ireland did, because they remained more composed when it mattered most.

It is when you are playing at the top of your game, physically and mentally, that you are under most pressure and mistakes creep in. You only cut down on the error count by gaining more experience of playing at that level: by building up an instinctive understanding of what is the right option to take, and being able to apply that understanding even when you are down to your last few ounces of energy.

These things take time for a relatively inexperienced team and that is one reason why England will be favourites to win at Murrayfield. But, after a World Cup which saw Scotland’s morale reduced to rubble, the Ireland game has at least re-established some solid foundations on which Townsend and his squad can build.