John Dalziel believes Scotland’s performances against the elite of France and Ireland should give them even more encouragement than their victories over England and Wales.
After winning their opening two games in the Guinness Six Nations, the Scots’ hopes of silverware were dashed by defeats against the top-two ranked sides in the world when they lost 32-21 in Paris last month and then 22-7 at home to the Irish on Sunday.
Despite the back-to-back losses, coach Dalziel is adamant Scotland are showing “clear progression” that he expects to manifest itself in the form of a positive World Cup experience in the autumn.
“I don’t think there’s been a Six Nations where we’ve had the world number one and two in it,” he said. “To have them back-to-back, I think we’ve shown where we are as a group.
“In that France game, with the adversity we had in terms of losing Grant Gilchrist (to a red card), to fight our way back into control in that game, that shows the growth in where we are and the respect we rightly get from our opposition.
“We’ve not seen that side of us where we fall into old habits and get blown away by teams.
“We’ve been competitive against all these teams and we’re more pleased about how we’re progressing against the likes of France and Ireland than the wins we had at the start because they’re the wins we should have been getting for the last three years, against England and Wales.
“We want to test ourselves against the best teams and push from being fifth (in the Six Nations) to get further up.
“We did enough in the game on Sunday. If we could have had another 10 minutes of being a bit more accurate in two or three areas at the weekend, we’d have been desperately disappointed if we didn’t win that game.
“Whether they’re world number one or not, we know we did enough in that game to be competitive. There are areas we need to be better in to get anything off Ireland at the World Cup but I think there’s clear progression in the group, you see that every day in training.”
Dalziel feels Scotland have shown an improved mentality in this tournament.
“I feel as a coach, there seems to be a shift in the group, a maturity,” he said. “We’re training, acting and behaving like a completely different team and there’s a confidence level.
“I think there’s more to come. The group are in a good position, we want to finish the Six Nations on a high against Italy and we want to kick on at the World Cup. The biggest growth we’ll get as coaches is in that World Cup cycle.
“We’ll be able to imprint a lot more of our print on the group through that period because it’s a very unique thing you get in a World Cup cycle.”
Scotland have lost influential duo Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg to injury for the final match at home to Italy but Richie Gray has a chance of being available despite being forced off early on against Ireland with a rib injury.
“We’d like to think Richie will be able to train tomorrow (Wednesday), then we’ll make a decision on him,” said Dalziel. “It certainly looks a lot better than when he came off on Sunday.
“Finn and Hoggy have been huge players for us and have played so well in this championship but injuries come with the business. They will go back to their clubs to be scanned and assessed properly – we’re hoping it will be nothing majorly long-term.
“Italy had casualties in their games as well, it’s part of the game. But we’ve got a really good depth in the squad that we’ve taken the opportunity in previous campaigns to develop. There are guys who deserve an opportunity that will come in.”