Gregor Townsend refused to answer questions about his future after Scotland slumped to a dismal Six Nations collapse in Rome.  

The Scotland head coach said he believes he is the right man to take the team forward despite a third defeat of the campaign.  

Townsend, who is under contract until 2026 having signed a two-year extension last May, said: "I’m not going to answer that question.  

“We’re disappointed with the result today, but we know this team have come on since the World Cup. 

"We can look at this result and be really disappointed, but I’ve been really proud of how this team’s played during the championship so far.” 

Townsend said he feels the squad has made progress since being knocked out of the Rugby World Cup at the pool stage – a second successive such elimination during his tenure.  

He added: “I believe in this group. 

“You can look at results and say: ‘We’ve lost to Italy, this team aren’t going to take that next step’, or you can look at where we’ve grown since the World Cup. 

READ MORE: Five things we learned as Scotland lose in Italy

"I still believe the performances the players are putting in can show we can beat anybody. 

"But if we take our eye off the ball for a period of time, we can be beaten. That’s what happened today.” 

Having gone into the match in second place, Scotland could now finish in the bottom half of the table if they fail to win in Dublin next weekend.  

However Townsend says the wins over Wales and England so far in this year’s championship give him confidence his team are moving in the right direction.  

He added: “This result is very disappointing. We’ve lost against a good Italy side, one of the best Italian teams I’ve seen, but today is not what defines this team.  

“Next week will define it, but the weeks before defined it as well.” 

After getting on the wrong side of referee Ben O’Keeffe in the opener against Wales, Scotland repeated the feat with Angus Gardner in Rome and lost the penalty count 12 to five.  

Townsend was critical of the flow of penalties O’Keeffe awarded in Cardiff, but said his team’s discipline let them down today.  

“I look at the Wales game differently. I think the penalties in today’s game were justified. 

“They were completely our doing, which was frustrating and disappointing. 

“‘Even more disappointing was the seven points we didn’t take [George Horne’s disallowed try]. 

"We went through a number of phrases, scored a very good try, and it was brought back for blocking. 

“‘That was seven points that would have extended our lead, but it ended up giving Italy field position. 

"You need to learn that you can’t give away repeated penalties at any point in the game. If you do that, it’ll put you in trouble.” 

The Scotland head coach also conceded defeat was a huge blow to the team but is pleased they will have a chance to put right their second half capitulation when they travel to Dublin next weekend, where the Triple Crown will be up for grabs.  

“It’s a massive blow,” Townsend said.  

“It would be worse if it was our last game of the tournament and you have months to stew on it. 

Scotland Rugby News: The Scotland players were dejected at full-timeThe Scotland players were dejected at full-time (Image: PA)

"We’ve got a week now to improve and to make sure we don’t make the same errors as we did today. 

"We’re playing an Ireland team who are the best out there right now. We’re still playing for something tangible, which is the Triple Crown. 

"We’re disappointed we’re not going to be playing for any more than that, but it gives us huge motivation to improve from today.” 

An estimated 15,000 Scots had made the trip to Rome, only to see their side lose for the first time in 14 meetings with the Azzurri.  

Townsend had a message for those who had made the trip.  

He added: "We’re disappointed for the supporters. The support they gave the team was fantastic.  

“But it’s sport. Two weeks ago, the atmosphere at Murrayfield and reaction to us beating England was fantastic. Today, they are right to be disappointed in the team, as we are. 

"We believed that if we’d carried on playing as we were in the first half, it would have been a win, but it’s not. Italy deserved their victory."