Gregor Townsend believes there is a race going on as the best teams in the world rush to improve their defensive capabilities – and admits Scotland are lagging behind.
The Dark Blues head coach saw his team become the first Scottish side in 55 years to register back-to-back clean sheets as they nilled both Samoa and Russia.
But the Scots rearguard failed to stand up to the test presented by rival Pool A big guns Ireland and Japan, allowing both to claim four-try bonus-points as they crashed out of a World Cup at the group stage for only the second time.
Townsend’s team are now heading home after Sunday’s 28-21 defeat in Yokohama.
And the dejected head coach admits his team paid the price for switching off during a 20-minute spell just before half-time, allowing the Brave Blossoms to boost their quarter-final hopes with a devastating three-try surge.
He said: “Defensively, we weren’t good in that second quarter against Japan as we had been in the first.
“Our defence in the two previous games against Samoa and Russia was outstanding.
“But it’s an area of improvement we know is not up there with the best teams in the world. We have shown improvements, but you can’t switch off.
“What do you need to match the best teams in the world? Consistency from game to game, and within games. Winning games is the standard you set. Against Japan they kept up the way they wanted to play in the first 15 minutes and it was excellent.
“We recognise that any championship-winning team is based on defence. The aim was to address that by selection and the positions where we had debates we went for guys we believed were better defenders.
“We have shown that at times, but not enough as a team. It is something we have to keep working on.”
It emerged last year Townsend had told his players he wanted them to play the fastest brand of rugby in the world.
But Scotland looked horribly one-paced in comparison to the super-charged hosts, whose relentless energy in attack saw them slice open the Dark Blues time and time again.
Townsend insists there is now more to Scotland’s game than chucking the ball about with wild abandon – but he held his hand up to the fact his gameplan did not make the impression he was hoping for.
“That (fastest rugby in the world aim) was something that was internal, but one of our players had a BBC column and it came out,” he explained. “I don’t regret it. It was a theme for that tour in Singapore and that season into November.
“Playing the fastest rugby in the world applies to your attack. Ask any coach what the most important thing in attack is and it is getting quick ball. That’s what we set as standards for our players.
“But over the last year we have really developed a kick-chase game that puts teams under pressure. That was a big part of our gameplan against Japan but we didn’t get enough possession in the first half to do it.”
The post-mortem on another failed campaign will now begin but Townsend will wait before looking at where it went wrong for his side.
He said: “I always feel that coaches don’t have the ownership on how you should feel. That’s for the players, they put the effort in over four months.
“Some of them might be thinking this is the last time they’ll play in a World Cup. For some it might be the last time they play for Scotland.
“You can only feel for them. No-one wanted to be in this situation, so it isn’t great.
“But they are a mature group. They’re emotionally mature, they’re a tight group and we’ll come together and have chats away from the topic of win or loss. We’ll talk about, ‘What you doing over the next few weeks and months’.
“There is no analysis of performance for this group over the next few days. We’ve got weeks to analyse why we didn’t get to our best level and to play a knock-out game.”