Questions about Gregor Townsend’s future as Scotland coach may have seemed hasty in the wake of a two-point loss to an Italian side that should have also beaten France. 

There have been some great days in Townsend’s seven years in charge, including four Calcutta Cup wins, a 50-point triumph over Australia and a couple of terrific victories over the French.

Townsend’s team also play a style of rugby that is easy on the eye. That is something Scotland fans longed for in the mid-2000s when the boot of Chris Paterson was the national team’s primary scoring weapon.

But for all those highs, there have been some painful memories. A drubbing in Cardiff to kick-off the 2018 Six Nations, defeat to Fiji in Suva, but most painful of all, two defeats to Ireland that saw Townsend’s side dumped out of the 2019 and 2023 Rugby World Cups before the knockouts had begun.

With Scotland now likely to only record two wins in the championship - a regression on last year - questions should be asked as to whether Townsend can take this team to the next level and make them genuine title contenders. 

The Scotland head coach talked post-match of the progress his team had made since the most recent Irish shellacking in Paris last October. He was less keen to talk about why his team still has lapses in almost every match where they leak points.

READ MORE: Gregor Townsend defiant over Scotland future despite Rome collapse

Too often Scotland are not able to stem the tide. At the World Cup they failed to fire a shot in the pool decider against Ireland, and while they should have been ahead at half-time against South Africa, again they faded after the break.

And in this Six Nations, the pattern has continued. In Cardiff Scotland hung on to a 27-point advantage to win by a single point. Against France they stopped playing in the third quarter and attempted to defend a lead. They could not see it out.

In Rome they lost control of a match where they were in command after 20 minutes. Scotland were powerless to win back the momentum.

READ MORE: Five things we learned from Scotland's defeat to Italy

The best teams, an Ireland or a South Africa, would win these matches comfortably. They might lose control of a match for 10 minutes, but they’ll find a way to reassert themselves - both within the match and on the scoreboard - before too long.

Once the hosts got on top in Rome on Saturday, there was a sense of inevitability about the outcome. They were outstanding and deserve all the praise given to them by Townsend and his players.

Townsend said: “They’re a quality side. Even when we were scoring tries, when they had their opportunities they played well.

“They’re already a test for all of the Six Nations teams, and they’ll be even more of a test as a young team grows over the next few years.”

Scotland, meanwhile, must attempt to salvage a third win from the campaign for it not to be considered a failure.

Before the championship, there was talk of England, Wales and Italy being in transition post-World Cup; Ireland and France missing their talismen Johnny Sexton and Antoine Dupont.

Scotland were the settled side who could mount a serious title challenge. Now they face the prospect of heading into Super Saturday needing a win to avoid finishing in the bottom half of the table.

Scotland Rugby News: Townsend's side were dumped out of the 2023 Rugby World Cup after defeat to IrelandTownsend's side were dumped out of the 2023 Rugby World Cup after defeat to Ireland (Image: SNS)

How fitting then it is Ireland - the side against whom Townsend has endured two of his toughest days as Scotland’s head coach - who provide Saturday's opposition. 

A win can seal a second straight title for Andy Farrell’s side; it is St Patrick’s weekend and the Irish haven’t lost at home to Scotland since 2010, and not at Lansdowne Road since 1998. The odds are stacked firmly against Gregor Townsend's side. 

If the performance is anything as disappointing as last time out against Ireland, the odds on Scotland's head coach seeing out his current deal might grow.