SO the Six Nations is over for another year.
All things considered, it was not the worst championship Scotland have been through, but it ended with the worst result in all our years in the tournament. A record score and a record margin of defeat. Not what you would call finishing on a high note.
It was a tournament of good and bad for us. The peaks may have been outnumbered by the troughs, but they were still there. This is my assessment of the critical parts of Scotland's Six Nations season.
Loading article content
The lineout was a shambles against Ireland and a disaster against England, but then things tightened up so well against Italy that we did not lose possession on our own throw even once. It pains me to say it, because he is such a hard-working player, but Scotland's improvement came down to dropping Ross Ford from the side.
Ford has also struggled with the new scrum laws. If you can't throw and you can't hook then you shouldn't be near a Test pitch with the No.2 on your back. Or the No.16. Ford is a beast of a man but he has to reassess his entire game. Scotland were much better when Scott Lawson took over.
I thought Geoff Cross came through well, too. He made a huge difference when he took over at tighthead, a change that also exposed the shortcomings of Moray Low. It beggars belief that Cross has become a peripheral figure at Edinburgh.
Scotland's tally of four tries was the worst of all the sides in the championship. Even Italy managed seven. You have to go back to 2009, when we scored three, to find a lower Scottish total.
Yet I actually thought we looked far sharper than in recent seasons. Discounting the Wales game, which was a damage-limitation exercise, Scotland looked inventive going forward, largely thanks to the developing centre partnership of Matt Scott and Alex Dunbar. The tries we did score, against both Italy and France, were very well engineered.
We were unlucky that Tim Visser was ruled out and then to lose Sean Lamont, Sean Maitland and Tommy Seymour during the tournament. It is a lot of firepower to be without. Dave Denton gave impetus, but I'd like to see more from him and the other forwards on the creative front. Time to give Jonny Gray his chance?
They were pretty much posted missing against Wales after Stuart Hogg was sent off. I know that replacement options had been limited by the earlier loss of Kelly Brown but I would have hooked a forward, probably Ryan Wilson, to get another back on the pitch. You just can't face up to that Welsh backline if they have a man advantage. Jack Cuthbert should have been put on straight away.
I find it hard to fault the effort and application of the Scots in defence, but those things are a given at this level. Where they came up short was in basic skills and technique, as they fell off too many tackles. Do that at this level and you will be punished, as Scotland were.
I felt so sorry for Dougie Fife on his debut against Wales. He was exposed by the Welsh attack, but the fault is not his alone. Fife wasn't given the support he needed by his fellow players and was left looking more exposed than he had to be.
In a word: erratic. Kelly Brown must have thought he was in some bizarre hokey-cokey routine. In, then out, then in again. Whatever anyone thought about his performance against Ireland (and I didn't think it was all that bad) he was certainly missed against England a week later.
We can only speculate on what effect that had on the wider squad's morale.
I thought Scott Johnson got it wrong in two critical areas: hooker and scrum-half. Bringing Scott Lawson in for Ross Ford sorted out the first part of that, but he persisted with Greig Laidlaw at scrum-half. Laidlaw is a clever footballer, but he poses little threat to defences, his passing was laboured at times and his kicking, from hand and ground, was poor. Chris Cusiter was much the better option in my book.
I was glad that Johnson stuck with Duncan Weir at stand-off. Weir is not the complete No.10 but continuity of selection in that position is vital. He had a mixed championship, but he will be the better for playing five full games.
Well at least Scotland finished at the top of one table as they conceded more penalties than any other side. It was maddening to watch the way they coughed up easy points and easy territory to their opponents. More maddening still that so many of the penalties were conceded completely unnecessarily.
Patience and good decision-making are key to keeping on the right side of the law and Scotland fell down badly in both areas. Their initial work in contact was generally good, but it was what they did next that kept the referees busy. They have to learn to keep the head in these situations.
So should Stuart Hogg, of course. I think he was a little unlucky as his hit on Dan Biggar looked worse than it actually was. But it was still a rash charge and I would have been shouting for a red card if it had been a Welsh player doing the same thing. Let's hope he learns his lesson.