IT was always going to be an almighty ask to beat Ireland and the fact is that the world’s number one side showed just why they have that exalted status with a three tries to one victory that was just about the right scoreline.

In the end, Scotland made too many errors and you cannot make mistakes against a side of Ireland’s quality and expect to win. In no way was England’s utter humiliation at the hands of France any sort of solace for what happened at Murrayfield – well, just a tad – because at the end of the day, Scotland failed to overcome their own task.

Yes we matched and sometimes bettered Ireland for parts of the game, but the fact is we deserved to lose because we were not up to competing for the entire 80 minutes. Now we know what Scotland need to do to have any chance of progressing past the pool stages of the Rugby World Cup in France this autumn – they need to improve a lot.

It’s that necessity which now puts the match against Italy at Murrayfield on Saturday into the ‘must win’ category. Looking at the tournament so far objectively, it’s clear that Scotland have improved, but now we need to prove that against the other improved side.

I couldn’t help but laugh at Sir Clive Woodward’s comments in his Daily Mail column. His face was a picture of angst at Twickenham at full time, and he vented his spleen in the Mail: “The Six Nations has shown there are now two divisions. England are in Division Two with Wales and Italy. Ireland France and Scotland are in the top tier. They are fitter, stronger and are able to play with skill that England, Wales and Italy cannot match.”

How it must have hurt Woodward to deliver that verdict. But he’s right and the World Rugby rankings bear out his assertion.

We started fifth in the rankings ahead of England and we are going to stay there because I am taking Ireland to complete the Grand Slam in no uncertain terms against an England side that has lost its way in recent years.

Scotland needs to beat Italy, however, because even though it will make no difference to the seedings for the World Cup – they were decided three years ago – it will certainly boost Scotland’s standing in the sport and boost our confidence if we can notch a third victory in the 2023 Guinness Six Nations.

Compared to yesteryear, it’s been a strange tournament for Scotland.

I well remember the old Five Nations when we had years of Fortress Murrayfield and it was the away games at Twickenham and Paris that were our bugbear. Now Scotland has broken the Twickenham hoodoo well and proper, and we showed in the Stade de France that we can challenge the world’s number two side at home, even if we did not beat them.

Beat Italy and we are pretty certainly guaranteed to finish third in the table, and I suspect most Scottish fans would have accepted that at the outset. Three victories out of five matches is a respectable rate of return for us, but apart from the tailing off in the second half against Ireland, it’s been the manner in which Scotland have played that has been so gratifying – asked who the most entertaining team of the tournament has been, and I suspect most genuine fans would say Scotland.

We have also had two of the best players in Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg and now we are going to have to do without them against Italy and that’s a big loss. I felt the pair were possibly not 100 per cent fit on Sunday but they were passed fit to play and both were very keen to participate, not least Hogg who wanted to earn his 100th Scotland cap – what a career milestone that is.

I have hugely admired the improvement of Italy under head coach Keiran Crowley and make no mistake, they are a real threat to Scotland, not least because with Wales playing France, they have a chance of avoiding the Wooden Spoon. But that will mean that they would have to beat us, and on known form, I can’t see that happening, even though the only team that Italy had beaten away in the Six Nations was Scotland – twice – until that dynamic denouement against Wales last year.

I hope Gregor Townsend does not experiment too much with his selection for Saturday. Blair Kinghorn’s versatility comes into play now because he can replace either Russell or Hogg at either stand-off or full-back and the rest of the back line should be obvious.

All top-level matches are won or lost up front and that is especially true when Italy are involved because they have proper grafting forwards who know their business and go about it well. That’s why I hope Scotland’s pack get a good night’s sleep on Friday because they are going to face a stern task at Murrayfield the following day. They have no option but to win us this must-win match.