Gregor Townsend says Scotland must learn from their second half collapse when they head to Dublin on Saturday, and admits his side will need to be at their very best if they are to salvage their campaign with a win over title-chasing Ireland.  

The Irish will go into the match knowing a victory can still wrap up the title, but with their dreams of back-to-back Grand Slams over after a shock defeat to England at Twickenham.  

If Scotland don’t win in Dublin, they could finish in the bottom half of the table depending on other results.  

The success of the campaign hinges on victory in a city Scotland haven’t won for 14 years and against the tournament favourites.  

The Scotland head coach, who refused to answer questions about his own future after the 31-29 reverse to the Azzurri, said it would take his team to be at their very best if they are to topple title-chasing Ireland. 

READ MORE: Five things we learned from Scotland's defeat in Rome

Townsend said: “If we end up with two wins, of course we will be disappointed. We were disappointed not to have won against France and we were disappointed on Saturday. 

“They were obviously tight defeats, but that doesn’t change things. We set out to win those games and we were in a position to win against France. In the Italy game, we probably weren’t in a position to win in the second half, but we certainly were after our opening period. 

“It’s gutting that we didn’t come away with those two wins. If we get ourselves into a position to win against Ireland, the team will have played really well. That’s what we have to focus on this week.” 

When Townsend took over the team seven years ago, a top-half finish was seen as a successful campaign. Winning the Calcutta Cup was a bonus – Scotland hadn’t got their hands on the trophy for a decade until the 2018 triumph.  

Now those expectations have risen considerably. A top-half finish is a minimum expectation and beating England has become the norm.  

Despite their second defeat of the championship, Townsend believes his side are continuing to make progress.  

He added: “The expectation has gone up and our own expectations have gone up too. 

“To beat England was something that never happened, and now the expectation is to beat them regularly and for us to finish high up in the championship. 

“I felt our experiences in the World Cup set us on a much better standard of playing in this Six Nations. You saw it in the first 45 minutes in Cardiff, and the growth mentally in this group has been positive. 

“Saturday was a setback, that third quarter. But that’s sport - you have to learn from the times when you’ve not done that well and build on the things you’ve been doing well.” 

As part of the painful debrief from their Roman collapse, Scotland will have to analyse how they let a 12-point lead slip in Rome, and why they weren’t able to regain control of a match that seemed there for the taking in the opening quarter. 

READ MORE: Gregor Townsend refuses to answer questions over Scotland future

But he dismissed the notion that his side are unable to regain momentum in a match once it is lost, saying they achieved this in the final 10 minutes against Wales to avoid throwing away a 27-0 lead by the skin of their teeth.  

“We did get it back [in Cardiff]. We got the win. We got the momentum back and dominated the last ten minutes and that’s credit to the team coming together. 

“Saturday was obviously a tougher experience because we lost. In Cardiff, the guys brought that game back to us winning it and being on their try-line at the end of the game. 

“It would have been great to get a bonus point but the most important thing was to win down there. 

“I don’t think there are parallels between Saturday and the other games. On Saturday we let slip a big advantage.  

“We did have enough time to bring it back but the problem was giving them such a big advantage - that’s something we need to address.” 

He knows there’s a big job to pick the players up – but Scotland still have the Triiple Crown to play for in Dublin, and an outside shot at the title.  

“Saturday night wasn’t the time to lift them up, because they were very disappointed and we [as coaches] were very disappointed too. 

“Monday will be an important day, as will Tuesday and Wednesday when we train. We have to look ahead to how we can be better against Ireland.  

“There will be parts where we say, ‘this is exactly how we want to play, this what we have been working on, but there will be others where we will say, ‘this can’t be good enough’. 

“If we give away penalties back-to-back, the opposition are going to get positive outcomes from it, they’re going to get points. A team like Ireland, if you give them invitations into your 22, they usually come away with points.” 

The head coach and his players will draw upon painful memories from their last meeting with Ireland having been dumped out of the World Cup by Andy Farrell’s men in October. 

Townsend added: “We have to focus a lot on ourselves and how we got ourselves into a strong position against Italy but also how we let it slip. We have to address that. 

“A lot of the players played in the game [against Ireland] at the World Cup so they know the reasons why we didn’t perform that day, and why Ireland played really well. 

“It’s a given that Ireland are going to play well against us - they’re a quality side. We have to be at our very best to win.”