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Former internationalists believe Scotland are not too far off the pace despite back-to back defeats

C ynics may argue that Scotland's Test rugby players have been drinking in the last-chance saloon for so long that it's hardly surprising some of them are becoming accustomed to lost weekends.

Yet, despite the anti-climactic nature of the back-to-back reverses to New Zealand and South Africa at Murrayfield, there seems to be little enthusiasm for questioning Andy Robinson's future, even though his record in the last dozen matches – there are only three wins – is comparable to that which gained Craig Levein his P45.

Scott Hastings, for instance, embodied the general mixture of frustration and optimism which seems to be a Caledonian trait when he dissected the contrasting fashion in which his compatriots had been blitzed by a brilliant All Blacks side, prior to being bullied out of their rhythm by the Springboks.

"I have always said that coaches don't drop passes or teach their players to make basic errors, but the South Africa game was a chance missed, because I don't think they were anything special. If we had got to grips with them earlier than we did, we could have beaten them," said the younger of the Hastings brothers. "The pack have done a lot of good things, but then they spoil it with inaccurate throwing [at the lineout], or not being dynamic enough at the breakdown. You simply can't afford to flit in and out of games for 20 or 30 minutes; you have to be focused on the full 80.

"I feel mediocrity has crept into a few [members] of the Scotland squad. We chose the wrong options and kicked badly against the South Africans. Being honest, I didn't see an attacking performance or the skill in kicking which made me confident we are going forward. Yet we showed signs of promise and creativity against New Zealand, so we have proved we can go up against these countries and cause problems. But we have to concentrate 100% and stick to the game plan. We also have to beat Tonga [at Pittodrie] on Saturday and we can't afford to have another bad Six Nations."

To some extent, his attitude was reflected by the peerless stand-off, John Rutherford, a man who could have graced the All Blacks in his prime, but now simply believes that the reigning world champions have advanced to a rarefied level. Rutherford wasn't being defeatist when he voiced that opinion. On the contrary, his analysis of the twin autumn defeats was that the first was nigh inevitable, but the second was one of those irritating tales of what might have been for the hosts.

"We have to put our hands up and acknowledge that the All Blacks are just much better than everybody else at the moment, but there isn't much to choose between the sides who are ranked between No.2 and No.10, as you could see with South Africa and Scotland," said the man who would surely have made life tougher for what was largely a second-string Springbok line-up. "We have seen France thrash Australia, then the Australians beat England, and the Samoans got the better of Wales, who also lost to Argentina in Cardiff. So, it is very close among all these nations, and the Scots are in the mix.

"I am a realist and I don't expect us to defeat the Southern Hemisphere teams on a regular basis. We are not England and even they are struggling. If anything, that was the annoying thing about Saturday; but for one interception [try], I reckon we could have won, so it shouldn't all be doom and gloom. Basically, if we gain a win against the Tongans in Aberdeen, I'd give the squad six out of 10."

His fellow-Borderer, Gary Armstrong, hinted that, perhaps, some of that mentality had gone AWOL of late, with the Scots also unable to think outside the box. "We have to learn lessons from countries such as the All Blacks, because they were immense at the breakdown and going forward, whereas I felt we were a bit slow, ponderous and we didn't work hard enough," said the former Scotland scrum-half. "But I am still confident. Tonga's a must-win fixture, but there is a bit of a buzz around the Scottish scene and we're only one or two wins away from being back in the groove."

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