At the end of as fine a Guinness Six Nations tournament as I can remember, what lessons have we learned as we count down to the World Cup in France just under six months from now.

We know that the best team in the world really is Ireland with France close behind them. According to the World Rugby rankings, Ireland, France, New Zealand and South Africa are closely matched together in that order, with ourselves some way behind in fifth place just ahead of England. Reality is never fully reflected in rankings however, and the biggest lesson that Scotland has to take from the Six Nations is that we are nowhere near the finished article yet.

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Remember that in the World Cup we will face the current No. 1 side Ireland and World Champions South Africa and we must beat either of them to exit the pool stage. Yes, I am dismissing Tonga and Romania, but if we can’t beat sides ranked at 15 and 19 respectively then we don’t deserve to make the quarter finals – and since we will likely play either New Zealand or France at that stage then I won’t be booking my semi-final ticket.

Yet at times during the Six Nations we played rugby to match any team in the world. It’s just that we didn’t do it for long enough and consistently enough.

Ireland deserved their Grand Slam, and while France showed they could be vulnerable at times – as against Scotland – they will recall their magnificent performance at Twickenham as a huge boost to their confidence ahead of the World Cup.

What impressed me about Ireland was their strength in depth, which was never better displayed than when they lost their two hookers against us and Cian Healy stepped up into the front row while Josh van der Flier took over the lineout throwing in duties. Incidentally it was remiss of me not to point this out earlier but had Healy not been listed as a possible hooker – he was, and I checked – then uncontested scrums were likely and Ireland might have had to go down to 14 men. It wouldn’t have made much difference to the eventual result, but now you know how the man who mainly plays prop was able to go on as a hooker. And you have to say Healy and van der Flier did brilliantly, showing the forethought of head coach Andy Farrell and his back room team.

That’s what is so encouraging for Ireland – they have a golden generation of players all coming to a peak under excellent guidance.

As for France, well at times they were magnifique, and Fabien Galthie is planning their ascent to top performances on home soil at the World Cup. Every other team must hope that hosting the tournament puts too much pressure on the French squad, but I see the opposite happening – their morale will be boosted by the sheer volume of support they will get.

Their finishing positions in the tournament graphically displayed the problems of England and Wales while on the field their showings against Scotland exhibited what many in the game down south feared – yes, we were very good against both of them, but they were quite poor. Steve Borthwick and Warren Gatland have their work cut out to turn their squads around but it would be foolishly premature to predict World Cup woes for either.

As I wrote last week I have been very impressed with Italy’s development under Kieran Crowley and though they took the Wooden Spoon again, they showed that they are continuing to improve and that’s all they can be asked to do. In the World Cup, like ourselves they are in with two of the big boys, New Zealand and France, but at the very least I take them to put up a stuffy fight against the All Blacks and Les Bleus. In any case it will be a delight to welcome them back to Murrayfield for the first of Scotland’s summer tests in preparation for the World Cup – put Saturday, July 29 in your diary. For the two Saturdays after that we’ll face France home and away, before the concluding preparation match against Georgia on Saturday, August 24.

As for Scotland, well we also know we have strength in depth and versatility, never better shown than by Blair Kinghorn on Saturday. I thought he did well at stand-off and even better at full-back and while Jack Dempsey was outstanding, Kinghorn suffered from an old problem that often happens in televised rugby and football matches – to ensure they meet their schedules the broadcasters insist on the selection of a man of the match before the game has ended. So even though Kinghorn scored a hat-trick and his final try was a length of the field belter which he started and finished, Dempsey was named MoM even before that thrilling final score. A quibble, but a justified one.

Main lesson is that Scotland has made a good start to this World Cup year. Please keep it going.