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Ireland 17-13 Scotland: 'Unpredictable Scotland go down fighting in wasted chance campaign'

For much of the last 40 minutes at the Aviva, Scotland resembled a fighter on the ropes - pummelled but refusing to go down, surviving on instinct and pride.

In Rome last week these same players folded under the pressure, but this was the other side of their split personality. This was belligerence and incredible cussedness.

If Scotland's accuracy in attack deserted them - the sloppiness in possession was again a curse - it is hard to remember such a prolonged period of assaults on the Scottish line met with such resistance.

The tackle count was astronomical, the aggression through the roof. Tadhg Furlong denied. Calvin Nash denied. Garry Ringrose denied. Robbie Henshaw denied.

Houdini would have applauded some of the escapology out there while scratching his head over Scotland constantly inviting Ireland on to them after daft errors.

Long before the final minutes, Scotland had crashed through the 200 barrier in terms of tackles made. Most of the Scots were into double figures on the stats. Their survival technique was almost surreal at times.

There were Irish gripes about Furlong's try not being awarded and George Turner's head-on-head with Furlong not being punished and both were legitimate. There were Scottish gripes about Andrew Porter's game-breaking score being awarded and that was legitimate, too. There looked to be Irish obstruction in that move.

This was the third meeting of these nations in a year. Unlike in Paris in the autumn, when Scotland were trounced early, and Murrayfield in the spring of last year when they fell away late on, this was resilience from start to finish. Scotland lost, but at least they turned up.

They gifted Ireland seven points in what proved to be a four-point game, but their doggedness was beyond dispute. And right at the end there was a hint of a sensation, a suggestion of a rope-a-dope that would have made the Rumble in the Jungle look like a warm-up routine.

Ireland, by their standards, were unimpressive, so that has to be factored in, too. That's 10 in a row over Scotland now, though.

In quality terms, this ranks pretty low on that list, but nobody in green would have been all that bothered. Peter O'Mahony, possibly making his last appearance for his country, called it a career highlight.

For Scotland, this loss would have been a fairly easy one to wear had the damage not been done earlier in the campaign. The failure to put away a desperately out-of-sorts France and the capitulation against Italy were the results that will stick in the craw, not this one.

They say the league table doesn't lie - and they're right. Twelve months ago Scotland finished third in the Six Nations and this season they have finished fourth. Their number of wins has fallen from three to two, tries scored have fallen from 17 to 12, tries conceded have risen from 12 to 13.

In 2023 they scored 118 points, but that fell a touch to 115. A year ago they shipped 98 points but that has climbed to 115. The points difference has dropped from plus-20 to zero. Last year, Scotland lost the penalty count 54-53 across all six games. This year they lost it 57-27.

Finn Russell spoke afterwards and mentioned the fragile beast that is this team's mentality and its propensity to drift mid-game. That is an unarguable truth - and an uncomfortable one for Gregor Townsend.

Seven years into the job and Scotland are still the great entertainers, for good and bad. They are brilliant and brutal, often within the same game.

A campaign full of regrets

You do not know what you are going to get, not even from match to match but from quarter to quarter.

They are infuriatingly unpredictable, throwing in extremes of performance that make it impossible for them to contend with any seriousness for a championship. They will never go anywhere until they remove the Laurel and Hardy routine.

They went 59 minutes without scoring against Ireland and went 50 minutes without scoring in Rome. Against England they had three tries after 44 minutes and couldn't make it four. Against Wales they had three tries a few minutes into the second half and could not score again. They collapsed, but at least saved themselves. Against Italy they collapsed and kept on collapsing.

The French game was a massive opportunity lost. Of course there was the injustice with the Sam Skinner try that wasn't, but there was also a butchered moment there.

Composure, instead of white line fever, would have allowed them to take a look around and see a team-mate in space out wide. Scotland were undone by the officials, but not solely by the officials. They had their own part to play in the downfall that day.

All of this amounts to a wasted chance for Scotland this year and, possibly, regret that will last a career. They lost to France by four points, to Italy by two and to Ireland by four. The nearly Grand Slam.

When will they again be in a position to achieve something worthwhile? Ireland were vintage in just one game - against France. Les Bleus will have Antoine Dupont back next season and should be more formidable. England looked to have turned a corner under Steve Borthwick. Italy have certainly turned a corner under Gonzalo Quesada.

This was a glorious chance for Scotland, if not to win the championship, then to secure their highest-ever finish. Fourth can only be deemed a significant failure.

Andy Christie was the breakout star of the championship for Scotland and maybe the musical chairs at blindside can stop now. The Saracen was exceptional on Saturday.

Russell's admirable honesty laid it on the line, though. Mentality drifts.

His coach agreed and that must have been a ferociously hard thing for Townsend to accept.

This is his team and, despite the bravery of the performance in Dublin, they are going backwards.