Scotland defence still rock-solid despite late wobble, says Mike Blair

Gregor Townsend’s men’s concede three tries to Italy in final 10 minutes at Edinburgh

Scotland assistant coach Mike Blair is not concerned about their defence despite conceding three late tries against Italy.

Gregor Townsend's men had a bonus point sealed before the hour mark of their opening Guinness Six Nations game, largely thanks to Blair Kinghorn's hat-trick, but conceded three tries in the final 10 minutes after Simon Berghan was sent to the sin bin.

The finale and the 33-20 scoreline showed Scotland have improvements to make if they are to challenge for the title, but Blair insists there is no fundamental flaw with their defending.

“There’s not a concern,” the former Scotland captain said. “[Assistant coach] Matt Taylor does a fantastic job with the guys, he leaves no stone unturned. We have a very hard-working coaching team, he will look into everything and different strategies.

‘Smart decisions’

“Obviously there have been a few soft tries but there’s nothing wrong with the system, it’s just guys making sure they are making those smart decisions under pressure.

“Obviously at 33-3 up before 60 minutes, we were really positive. But then that last 15 minutes, with the yellow card, they got a lot of possession. For us it hits home that if you don’t get things right, teams will expose you.

“A few decisions in defence, perhaps a bit of energy lacking, meant it was a disappointing last 10 minutes, certainly.

I don't think it's going to be any different because they lost. Ireland are a quality team, one of the top teams in the world

“But we are aware of where our standards need to be to avoid that happening in other games.”

Scotland next host an Ireland team who began the defence of their crown with a 32-20 home defeat against England.

Blair said: “I don’t think it’s going to be any different because they lost. Ireland are a quality team, one of the top teams in the world.

“Joe Schmidt is an incredibly intelligent coach along with Andy Farrell as well. We expect a big showing from them, not just because they lost their game, it’s something we would have been expecting anyway. We know we need to be right at the top of our game to give them a game.”

Full training

Blair was speaking after frontrow forwards Fraser Brown and Murray McCallum joined up with the squad for full training.

Glasgow hooker Brown stepped up his recovery from a knee injury while McCallum, 22, has joined up as fellow Edinburgh tighthead prop WP Nel nurses a calf injury.

Brown was ruled out for eight to 10 weeks in December, but Blair laughed when asked if his return had given his team-mates a lift.

“Fraz gets a bit of abuse for being quite negative,” Blair said. “But what he says is very direct and he’s got the respect of the rest of the players.

“It’s great having Fraser back involved in the squad. The type of player he is, the type of personality he is, he is pretty hard on the guys around him.”

Another hooker, Grant Stewart, has returned to Warriors while Sam Skinner has returned to Exeter for assessment on the ankle injury he suffered against Italy.