It was only a few weeks ago that Scotland fans were allowing themselves to visualise this weekend as the final leg of a ground-breaking Six Nations campaign. After back-to-back victories over England away and Wales at home in the opening two rounds of the campaign, the possibility of finishing second in the championship for the first time since Italy joined the party at the turn of the century suddenly seemed very real.

For some, the fact that Gregor Townsend’s side still had to face France (the number two ranked team in the world) away and Ireland (the number one ranked team at Murrayfield) suddenly didn’t seem that daunting – and they began to dream of a top of the table finish.

Even those less optimistic hoped that Scotland had at least moved beyond the stage of dealing in the same old hard luck stories – of wondering what might have been with a little bit more composure and self-belief at the right times – but we were wrong to do so.

When push came to shove, the same old failings materialised. An overthrown line-out in Paris when Scotland had France on the ropes with 10 minutes to go killed off that rousing fightback, and the way Ireland embraced their injury woes to finish the match like a runaway train – while the Scots were left looking like confused passengers left stranded on the station platform – was particularly galling.

There is no shame in either of those results, but the lack of ruthlessness is depressingly familiar, and it leaves the team wandering – half-dazed – along that well-trodden path towards a make-or-break final weekend showdown against Italy on Saturday.

In years gone by, this would have been a wooden-spoon decider, whereas now Scotland are looking to finish with a better than 50 percent win-rate from the campaign, so that’s progress – but it’s not where the team, the management and the supporters hoped the team would be.

“It’s a very good thing – it’s nice to have pressure,” insisted Pierre Schoeman, Scotland’s eternally optimistic loose-head prop. “We have a great guy, Walshy [Aaron Walsh], who works with us mentality-wise, and a lot of it is about dealing positively with fear of failure, so that’s good.

“He’s our team motivational and mental guru and you can do individual work with him as well. If you think about it, the mental swings in a game – in Test rugby especially – are massive. It’s not just a team, it’s 23 individuals and management as well, and he does exceptional work with the guys.”

New Zealander Walsh was recruited by Townsend ahead of the Autumn Tests and is working with the team on a consultancy basis through to the end of the World Cup. He labels himself as a mental skills coach and has worked with athletes in a number of sports, including the Chiefs and Harlequins in rugby union, the Vodafone Warriors in rugby league, the New Zealand women’s cricket, hockey and soccer teams, and with various individuals in Major League Baseball.

“He has a lot of experience and a lot of knowledge in that area,” continued Schoeman. “He has experience with certain individuals that he refers to – some in rugby, at the Chiefs and the All Blacks – and you can see the benefits and the things it helped them to overcome.

“So, he’s helping us massively and he’s a credit to the team. Everyone has bought in and they’re like sponges, taking things on board. Together with our physical prep it’s all going well. We’re all pushing and pulling in the right direction.

“Italy are a very good team with some very good individuals as well who can create something out of nothing,” Schoeman added. “The way they play with passion, the way they clean-out at rucks, the way they tackle … and they have it in them as well to win matches. They’re not far off, so we are going to have to be very clinical in all aspects of the game this weekend.

“We know there is a lot of pressure, which is a massive responsibility – but it is also an opportunity to be on it every moment, every contact, and every set-piece.

“We want to play to make the fans happy,” he concluded. “We want them to appreciate it and enjoy it. And we want to make them proud of the nation. So that’s what we’re going to do. We’re back on the horse already; recovery done, preview done and now we’re back grafting to put in a massive performance against a good Italy side.”