A campaign that had begun so promisingly with a stunning win over England at Twickenham is now in danger of fizzling out into a bottom half finish following the 27-24 loss to the Irish at BT Murrayfield.
The lineout was Scotland’s Achilles’ heel, with the home team winning only two of eight over the course of a see-saw 80 minutes.
The Scots had trailed 24-10 deep into the second half but dragged themselves level with converted tries from substitute Huw Jones and flanker Hamish Watson. But Johnny Sexton’s penalty three minutes from time - his fifth of the match - restored Ireland’s lead and they held on for victory.
“The errors were largely around set-piece and contact,” said Townsend, who stressed that the lineout woes were as much about Ireland’s abilities as Scotland’s deficiencies. “There are two teams involved so the pressure Ireland put on our lineout gave them a lot of ball throughout the game and stopped us getting the platform to build on.
“Then a few contact areas – Ireland’s jackal threat was excellent today. I thought we improved in that area in the second half and we showed what we can do when we have ball.
“We scored three tries and we only had two lineouts to play off. But we have to be better in all aspects but we know we are better than that in the lineout.”
The lineout had been one of the foundations of the win at Twickenham and the Scotland coach thinks he can fix the problems “pretty quickly”.
“Sport moves on fast,” he said. “We have a chance to get back on our game. Our lineout had the best winning percentage before today so it’s not a theme of our performances. It dropped a bit today and we’ll be working to make sure we get good ball to play off.
“There are a number of areas we have to improve. We need to do a lot of work on contact and lineout.”
The bonus-point defeat followed last month’s narrow home loss to Wales and left Townsend to ponder on the rollercoaster nature of this campaign.
“Twickenham set the bar and for 30 or so minutes against Wales we played as well as at Twickenham, and better in some aspects. But we were not consistent over 80 minutes against Wales and again today,” he said
“Every game is different – different opposition, different refereeing interpretations – and you have to adapt.
Scotland outscored the Irish by three tries to two but the Scots always seemed to be chasing the game.
Stuart Hogg, the Scotland captain, had stressed beforehand the importance of the first 20 minutes but Ireland took the game by the scruff of the neck from the first minute.
“I think the thing that we’ve talked about is not being in a position to chase games,” said Hogg. “Being in control from the very get-go.
“But it has to happen from the very first whistle, and at times, especially in the first 20 minutes, we got on the wrong side of the referee. We didn’t help ourselves.”