THERE were a number of lessons learned by Scotland over the course of the Autumn Tests, and the first one hardly needs saying – Scotland have improved but they are far from the finished article.

We are certainly consistent. Scotland started the Autumn Tests in seventh place in the IRB World rankings and while everybody else in the tier one nations saw their rankings go up and down, Scotland stayed admirably in seventh throughout. Once again the rankings make nonsense of World Rugby’s decision to have the seedings for next year’s World Cup in France decided on the Rankings as at January 1, 2020. Scotland were then ranked ninth which put them into Band 3 of the seedings. That means we have to face South Africa and Ireland in Pool B, starting against the defending world champions South Africa on September 10, 2023, in the Stade Vélodrome in Marseille.

The team that was ranked seven on Ne’erday 2020 was France who will face New Zealand and Italy in Pool A. If the draw was being made now, as it could be as who needs three years’ notice of a cup draw, that would have been Scotland’s fate, but instead we will now face the Springboks and the team which has gone up to fourth in the rankings, Ireland. In other words, our task to get out of Pool B now looks even tougher, and even if we do qualify for the quarter finals, we’ll most likely face New Zealand or the host nation. Deep joy.

It is a little over ten weeks to the match against England at Murrayfield to kick off the Scots’ participation in the 2022 Six Nations and as of yesterday, England were ranked third in the world thanks to their defeats of Australia and South Africa. Personally I thought the performance of the English against the Wallabies and the Springboks was out of the top drawer, bettered only by Ireland’s victory, and France’s brilliant win, over the All Blacks.

There being no internationals between now and February 5, the rankings will not change and Scotland will then play the third-best team in the world, and what I am going to say now may be anathema to many Scots but I don’t much care if we lose to England next year and in Six Nations 2023, as long as we come good in the World Cup and qualify for the quarter-finals. Of course I want us to win every game between now and then but what we really need is for Scotland to improve and peak in September, 2023, for it is the World Cup which is the true test of a national team nowadays, and while a Six Nations title or a Triple Crown would be outstanding, it is the competition for the William Webb-Ellis Trophy which will decide where Scotland really stands in the rugby world.  

There’s no question Scotland have improved since the 2019 World Cup and the victory over Australia proved that. But other teams have also improved and look how awesome Ireland and France were against the All Blacks. On their showings this Autumn we would not have the beating of England, Ireland or France at the moment.

The problem is that Scotland still make too many errors, while indiscipline is unfortunately still rife in the squad, though I would point out that the high penalty count against South Africa and Japan was as much down to refereeing inconsistency as Scottish disorder.

We really missed Rory Sutherland up front, but I felt the scrum did much better against Japan where the main failing was the inability of the Scots to capitalise on their opportunities. For example, in the five or six minutes after Stuart McInally came on and scored his try, there was a passage of play in which Scotland camped in the Japan 22 and should have scored a try, but a knock-on, a penalty concession and a second knock-on ruined oodles of good possession and Japan eventually cleared upfield – those chances need to be taken and taken ruthlessly, as the All Blacks and Springboks unfailingly do.

Some lessons undoubtedly have been learned by Scotland, the biggest being that on their day, Scotland’s defence is one of the best in the world. The attack’s not too sloppy either - Stuart Hogg’s record try count shows just what a brilliant attacker he is, while the Finn Russell box of tricks can be a match winner. Ali Price has matured into a tremendous No. 9, Chris Harris is the best centre around, and Hamish Watson and Jamie Ritchie are flankers supreme.

The basis is there to build a team that can go forward to France ’23 fearing nobody. And forget what I wrote earlier – let’s get a hold of England on February 5 and give them a good old-fashioned doing to hansel in a great Six Nations.