If it wasn’t for a duff decision by a TMO against France and a piece of unforgivable indiscipline by Pierre Schoeman in Rome, Scotland would be going to Dublin this weekend with a real chance of winning the Guinness Six Nations Championship and the Grand Slam. Nobody saw that as a possibility at the start of the tournament, and, lo, it did not come to pass as the arithmetic says we can’t win the title.

No use blaming individuals. The team failed to win two matches they should have won, and if you play as a squad then you win or lose as a squad. A cliche, yes, but also a truism.

At least we can see that this Scotland squad very much plays as a squad and the teamwork in this tournament has been outstanding.

Yet the losses indicate something I have felt about Scotland’s performances in recent years – we are just not hard enough when it matters. Scotland should have won against France at Murrayfield and against Italy in Rome, but especially on Saturday, we let the Azzurri off the hook, big style. Why?

Because we don’t kill off the opposition when we can, we don’t pummel them when they’re on the back foot, we don’t send them off down the way to dusty death, figuratively speaking, of course.

To win, to hammer the point of your superiority and demoralise the opposition, you need to be hard, and by hard I don’t mean dirty. In these days of all-seeing eyes, dirty play is usually always punished, and I can think of a few Scottish internationalists of yesteryear who would have seen a plethora of red cards for their ‘misdeameanours’ in the contemporary game.

I am talking about physical toughness and mental commitment which means total engagement up front, defending in stonewall fashion, and then taking responsibility for the attack from whatever position you occupy and carrying it through. Above all it means being able to absorb the punishment and give it back to the opposition and then some – my definition of ‘hard’.

I never saw David Bedell-Sivwright, obviously, because he died during World War I, but he was reputedly the hardest Scottish player ever, and I would have loved to have seen the brilliant flanker W.I.D. Elliot in his pomp in the 1950s, but I did watch the likes of Jim Telfer, Ian ‘Mighty Mouse’ McLauchlan, Sandy Carmichael, Ian ‘the Bear’ Milne, Jim Aitken, Colin Deans, John Jeffrey and my personal favourite hard man, Finlay Calder, dish it out and take it. There were plenty others in the 1970s through to the 1990s, with Gordon Brown, Norrie Rowan, Bill Dickinson, and David Leslie all players who were hard on the field and quite the opposite in person. All were tough characters.

Nobody attacked them with impunity. Nobody thought for a minute that they would lay down to any opponent.

I look at the contemporary Scottish squad, and while there are plenty tough individuals, I don’t see any player who you could genuinely call a ‘hard man’, certainly not of the order of Mighty Mouse or the Bear.

Battlers we have, yes, and thank goodness for it, but we need players with what coaches in the past called ‘a bit of devil’. I understood that expression – and played against plenty who had it.

Hardness was often misunderstood as nasty and brutal, and modern rugby does not tolerate such people. That’s a good thing – we really don’t need players who tackle high, who smack opponents off the ball, who hit with a fly punch or stamp, invariably when the referee can’t see. What we do need is players who stand up to opponents, who drive in to them, who make it public that they will live up that old Scottish motto ‘wha daur meddle wi me’.

I don’t think Scotland can develop ‘a bit of devil’ before Dublin but they have a very good reason for doing so – the Triple Crown. Ireland can’t win the Triple Crown of 2024 but Scotland, and only Scotland, can do so.

Don’t tell me it doesn’t matter, it’s just a hypothetical award, because to be the best of the four Home Nations is still worth fighting for.

I know I tipped Ireland to get their second consecutive Slam, but very few people foresaw that England would be their undoing, and yes, England deserved that victory at Twickenham in a game which ended with Ireland showing heavy legs and a touch of tiredness – they have been on a long and brilliant run, but they are knackered and it showed.

Problem is that Ireland need to defeat Scotland on Saturday to ensure that they win the Championship, and I still think they will beat us. But wouldn’t it be wonderful for Scotland to tear up the record books, play with gusto and spirit, and win the Triple Crown for only the 11th time and the first since 1990? If you can’t win a title, then making history is a very acceptable consolation.