SCOTLAND coach Bryan Easson has insisted that his team are continuing to make progress despite being whitewashed in the TikTok Six Nations.

An already miserable Championship ended in crushing disappointment for Scotland in Belfast on Saturday night when a last-gasp try and conversion gave Ireland a 15-14 win. Easson’s side finished bottom of the table with just three losing bonus points to their name - a stark contrast with their results earlier in the season, when they beat Spain, Ireland, Japan and Colombia in consecutive games.

Nonetheless, the coach is convinced that his squad have improved in at least some important aspects of their play, and believes he has succeeded in one of his key aims for the tournament by blooding some young players and improving the depth of the pool available to him. “We’ve been in touching distance with a lot of the teams,” he said. “To get bonus points in Wales, Italy and Ireland shows how close we are.  

“We can take heart from those three games, while in the second half against France we nilled them. And also we created opportunities against England, so if you look at all five games we have performed in fits and starts.

“We have improved, we have moved forward, there is no doubt about that. But we just have to start putting together the little things we are learning to get over the final hurdle.

“I have to say defensively [assistant coach] Tyrone Holmes has done a great job with the group and it showed versus Ireland. In attack I think we just have to show a bit more patience, work a bit harder on moving defenders around and our game management.

“And we’ve capped a group of young players like Anne Young, Shona Campbell, Emma Orr, Meryl Smith - I could go on. We have never had so many good youngsters coming through and pushing senior players hard.”

Winger Campbell, 20, and Orr, a 19-year-old centre, both started against Ireland and clearly have the talent to remain part of the squad for a long time to come. Yet, while they have brought some welcome competition to their own areas of the team, there is still a concerning lack of options available to Easson in other departments, with as many as nine or ten players all but guaranteed their places in their starting 15.

Granted, to an extent that is testament to the consistency shown by them, and it would be churlish to blame the likes of Helen Nelson or Emma Wassell for being the best players in their position. But ideally, Easson would have a greater range of players from which to select, with a greater variety of playing styles -  above all, more dynamic players in midfield and in parts of the pack. And, although he emphasised the increased competition, in most matches some of the substitutes remain on the bench.

The lack of depth at the highest level is a consequence of the relatively small numbers who play the game at the grass roots - something the SRU need to address through greater investment in the club game. At the same time, there is a growing clamour for the governing body to come up with enhanced funding for the elite players who make up the national squad.

A one-size-fits-all approach to the issuing of full-time professional contracts would be counter-productive for the likes of Jade Konkel and Sarah Bonar, who have full-time jobs outside of rugby but remain valuable members of the squad. Yet it is clear that at present the team are running to stand still, and that to start to make progress against their closest rivals they need more financial support.

All the same, it should be noted that they achieved far better results earlier in the season, which is why this Six Nations campaign, inadequate funding or not, has to go down as a major disappointment. In those wins against Spain, Ireland and Colombia that saw them qualify for this year’s World Cup finals, as well as in the friendly against Japan, Scotland played with a hard-edged self-confidence that was conspicuous by its absence in the Championship. With those finals in New Zealand now just a few months away, rediscovering that hard edge has become a priority.