Better defence is key if we are to break our duck

That result against Ireland was like receiving a hefty blow to the guts.

After the bad start against England, progress was made against Wales and France. The much-needed changes called for had finally been embraced by head coach Andy Robinson and things were looking up.

We were beginning to see the big picture and were looking forward to a rosy future. Mike Blair and Greig Laidlaw were at 9 and 10. Stuart Hogg had been installed at full back, the pack were doing well and the stats were looking good – apart from the main one, of course.

But we were getting line breaks, completing more passes than any other team. Then in the space of under two hours it went horribly wrong. The optimism drained out of all of us. “Unacceptable” said veteran prop Allan Jacobsen of his team’s performance.

The problem this time was our defence. This part of our game was holding up well until this season and has become a major problem. The way our forwards were controlled by the Irish was a sight we didn’t want to see, and a few days on, it has been hard to look forward to the Italy game with any great confidence as we challenge in Rome to avoid the wooden spoon.

And so to the team. Lee Jones is out due to concussion protocol – he is now recovering at home in Selkirk – and that means Max Evans and Sean Lamont will be on the wings. Graeme Morrison and Nick De Luca are preferred at centre while Blair and Laidlaw retain their half back positions with Stuart Hogg at 15. Despite the creaking performance by the pack there are no changes.

So can we do it? We always seem to perform at our best traditionally when we are written off. I still think we have a big performance in us and I hope we win comfortably, but if we collect our seventh defeat in a row it will be very hard to argue against changes at the top.

Speaking at yesterday’s team announcement, Robinson stated, what will seem to most, the obvious.

“Yes, we have played some good rugby at some points and there has been some improvement, but we all know that we need the substance that comes from a win, especially after the display in Dublin,” he said.

Scotland team to play Italy: Stuart Hogg; Max Evans, Nick De Luca, Graeme Morrison, Sean Lamont; Greig Laidlaw, Mike Blair; Allan Jacobsen, Ross Ford, Geoff Cross, Richie Gray, Jim Hamilton, John Barclay, Ross Rennie, David Denton. Subs: Scott Lawson, Euan Murray, Alastair Kellock, Richie Vernon, Chris Cusiter, Ruaridh Jackson, Jack Cuthbert.

Back on home turf, most Borders clubs are still striving to secure their places in next season’s restructured leagues (see fixture panel below).

Melrose and Gala, of course, are safe in the Premiership, but, with a championship title and three places up for grabs in the British and Irish Cup, all is still to play for when the two face each other at Netherdale on Saturday.

z The Brewin Dolphin Scottish Schools Under-16 Bowl final will see Hawick High School go up against Madras College.

The local outfit beat Biggar High School 34-0 last Friday.

Tries came from Ryan Elliot (2), McAuley Trotter, Craig Glendinning, Aidan Anderson and Colin Richardson.

The final, at Murrayfield, is scheduled for next week, but is still to be confirmed.