Jamie Lyall reflects on an all-too-familiar afternoon of disappointment and turmoil at Murrayfield on Saturday.
As the cavernous old ground emptied, the howls of anguish melting away to meek acceptance, supporters trudging down the concrete steps were met by a thunderous downpour, biting gusts and an Edinburgh sky as black as their spirits.
The weather, like the rugby, had turned predictably, painfully Scottish by the time George Clancy trotted under the crossbar to award Italy the decisive penalty-try that condemned Vern Cotter and his charges to their third straight Six Nations loss.
It is easy, and tempting, after this, a turgid, toothless performance against the poorest of their Championship peers to revert to the old Scots standpoint of exasperation and fury.
The players talk of the tiresome ‘gallant losers’ label and their desperation to rid themselves of it – then lose with little gallantry.
But equally, it is hard to be too scathing on a squad bearing such long-awaited promise, many players finding their feet in Test rugby, and a head coach whose pedigree is beyond question.
They tell you they are close – little deficiencies, crucial errors are hurting them. They talk of positives and progression.
You want to believe them. Still, you feel it is a matter of time before the wrongs are righted. But it doesn’t do much to dull the pain.
All the talk, all the vibes and all the protestations cannot mask results. The familiar rhetoric is especially unpalatable after an autumn that boded so well, and a hat-trick of defeats littered with recurrent flaws that have still to be satisfactorily rectified.
Frantic, unstructured attack and flimsy maul defence; sloppiness in technique and wayward judgement; mental fragility, the concession of soft points and crippling indiscipline.
The dynamic, high-octane Scotland of November and the expectancy and optimism that went with them has all but vanished. Gone is the slickness, the pace and above all, the control. In its place, a bizarre rashness as infuriating and incongruous to Test victories as the latest SRU pre-match gimmick, the Murrayfield ‘kiss cam’.
A backline so potent domestically, players who have, in club colours, bested many of the opponents they face in this tournament seem to combust under the pressure of international rugby. The opportunities continue to pass them by.
Cotter undoubtedly boasts an arsenal more plentiful and potent than his counterpart, Jacques Brunel, yet Italy, playing to their strengths, out-gunned the Scots three tries to one with less possession, and have scored twice more in their three games to date.
In home ranks, wrong options again were plumped for, passes thrown astray, and even after the stirring graft and toil that secured what appeared to be a conclusive scrum penalty deep in their own 22 in the final five minutes, Scotland still found a way to lose.
The enterprising Pete Horne more than filled Finn Russell’s boots at stand-off, but spilled ink all over his clean copybook by missing touch with the clearing kick. A cardinal error and Scotland’s self-defeating tendencies in microcosm.
It would be wrong to be too critical of Horne. After all, his teammates still had to infringe thrice, yielding two yellow cards, before the referee was heading for the uprights and the rapturous Italians had sacked Murrayfield again.
And though Clancy is pedantic and flaky, like Glen Jackson before him, he did not cost the Scots a win.
A season that began with fresh hope nears its conclusion. Scotland’s familiar, perpetual rugby suicide remains prevalent.