Whatever happens in South America, Scotland cannot afford complacency - Allan Massie

Obviously not every country or club can be doing well at the same time. Some always have reasons for disappointment and anxiety. Some are on the upwards escalator, others descending. And some are just not quite sure where they are.

Here in Scotland, we are probably in the same position as Wales. France and Ireland have reason to feel happy, England very little, or even none at all. That is a harsh judgement, but it is how many of their most devoted fans think and feel. They have, for the moment anyway, lost faith in Eddie Jones. Of course, success in their summer tour of Australia would turn things around. Daggers would be sheathed, at least for the moment. The truth is that Jones’s mind-games were fun while England were riding high, but have been irritating, even infuriating, for supporters and much of the Press in the last two years. His selection has become very inconsistent, and with that, the style of play likewise.

The mood here in Scotland is gloomy but, criticism is less bitter. This is in part because we expect less. Long experience of failure to win the Six Nations or for our clubs European Cups means that we are accustomed to disappointment. Even so the season just finished can be awarded a pass-mark only grudgingly. Scotland had good days. So did Edinburgh and, less often, Glasgow. There were setbacks. One wonders how differently the season would have developed if we hadn’t lost in Cardiff to a poor Welsh side.

It is of course when we compare our state to Ireland’s that many of us must feel bitter. Nothing demonstrated the gulf between Irish and Scottish rugby more clearly that the humiliating defeat Glasgow suffered against Leinster in the URC quarter-final. I suppose most of us expected Glasgow to lose, but also hoped that they would at last manage to make a close match of it. The fact is that it is now some years since Scotland have beaten Ireland and some time since either Edinburgh or Glasgow has beaten an Irish province in the knock-out stage of either league or cup.

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - JUNE 17: Head Coach Gregor Townsend during a Scotland Men's Rugby visual access session at the Oriam, on June 17, 2022, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)

There was another warning for Scottish rugby. For years we have had a comfort blanket in the Six Nations. Italy’s long run of defeats meant that we weren’t in much, if any, danger of finishing with the wooden Spoon. Now it has been obvious for a couple of years that, even if Italy were still losing matches, often by wide margins, they were nevertheless improving. At last this year they secured a victory, beating Wales in Cardiff a few weeks after we failed there. Italy are no longer lambs coming to the slaughter. More significantly still, their under20 side beat both Scotland and England. Righter days should be ahead for Italian rugby.

Even more worryingly for us, our own under-20 teams lost every match in the under-20 Six Nations. Something is wrong. Either talented players are not being identified or talented ones are being inadequately prepared for international rugby. The SRU seem convinced that the development of the six-club semi-professional league will in time – perhaps even soon – help bridge the gap between us and other countries. They may of course be right, but at present, though there has been some good play in the Super Six (dreadful title) the semi-pro clubs attract little public interest, and the stop-start nature of their competition means that it is evidently very difficult for these favoured, but botched together clubs, to develop any recognizable identity. It requires an act of faith to believe that they will soon do so.

One has the impression that there is a deal of unjustified complacency in the SRU offices in Edinburgh. We hear a great deal about commercial success, but very little, if any ,acknowledgement of where and how we are failing on the field. It’s hard not to believe that the next generation of professional players are being short-changed. The SRU has become slick in the field of public relations, but Scottish rugby fans ae more interested in results on the field rather than those in the office.

Perhaps the summer tour which begins today with the A International against Chile and proceeds to three Tests against Argentina will cheer us up. Yet one also fear that a successful tour would be taken as evidence that nothing much is wrong, and so provoke a complacency for which one can see no justification.