AT this stage in the four year cycle between World Cups, intending participants should have a reasonable idea as to their state of progress. After the summer series, we know who needs to make progress and who does not. You will not be surprised to hear me say that Scotland is in the former category.

After the weekend’s humiliation by Ireland the All Blacks now know they need to improve massively and have launched an inquiry into what has gone wrong. That is typical of the professionalism of New Zealand – they don’t just go for a pint and say ‘well, we had a poor day at the office so let’s just forget it and move on’. The same head scratching must happen for  Australia, put to the sword by a decent but not outstanding England side which at least showed signs of genuine progress by full time on Saturday. World champions South Africa also know they need to to improve because Wales ran them close, even if at the death the Springboks’ winning mentality prevailed.

Having beaten New Zealand, Ireland now proudly sit atop the official World Rugby rankings, and presumably just need to keep their development going to make a huge impact in France next year. The French themselves have slipped to second in the rankings but as host nation next year, you can bet they will raise their game significantly before the tournament.

Which brings us to Scotland. Miraculously, because of the way the ratings are calculated, Scotland have finished the summer series in 7th place in the world rankings, ahead of Wales and Argentina – no, I don’t understand it either.

It would be all too easy to dismiss Scotland’s performances in Argentina as under par and ‘move on’, but until the dying minutes of Saturday’s terrific game in Santiago Del Estero, Scotland looked set to win and clinch the series 2-1. 

In my opinion, it was an old Scottish failing that re-emerged and caught out the men in dark blue – that miserable capacity to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, more correctly stated as an inability to finish off a beaten team. 

Make no mistake, Argentina were down and out when Scotland went 15 points ahead with half-an-hour to play. Yet some inspired recovery play by Los Pumas abetted by some dubious Scottish decisions reversed the fortunes and gave Argentina victory. 

Captain Hamish Watson got it right about where Scotland went wrong: “We were the architects of our own downfall…we got 15 points up and couldn’t kick on from there.”

A combination of poor play at set pieces – the line-outs were particularly woeful – plus some strange decisions saw the Scots make life difficult for themselves. 

The wrong choice of options which saw kickable penalties eschewed for close range line-outs that failed to end in a score was one of the main reasons for that last-minute defeat, brought about by Emiliano Boffelli, the Edinburgh player who was arguably Argentina’s man of the series. Great thinking by the SRU, that, let’s import a non-Scottish qualified player who improves somewhat in Scotland while being paid SRU wages and who then promptly puts Scotland to the sword – yep, Murrayfield largesse at its worst.

It was a dreadfully disappointing end to the series, especially given the English and Irish results, but I am perhaps going to confound you by writing that there were signs of progress on the tour and maybe, just maybe, Gregor Townsend and his fellow coaches are getting the Scots on track for the World Cup.

Remember there was no Stuart Hogg, Chris Harrison and Finn Russell on the tour, but we now know that Blair Kinghorn is an effective No 10, even if he lacks Russell’s sheer flair, and there is plenty of cover in the backs and forwards. We also saw some spirited stuff from the youngsters such as Ewan Ashman and Ollie Smith and that bodes well for the next 18 months.

Overall, after that dreadful first 40 minutes of the opening Test, we saw Scotland competing well and besting Argentina for long periods. If only the Scots had heeded that old Scottish saying – ‘mak siccar’ – then we would now be testing a series victory and wondering what all the fuss had been about.

Townsend and co must now put all their efforts into ensuring that come those four difficult Autumn Tests and the Six Nation. Yes we can see that  Scotland have a developing squad with strength in depth - not enough of it, though - and the tactics look generally sound. But the main lesson to be learned from Argentina 22 is that Scotland really need to improve to even stand still. Don’t forget which nations lie ahead of us in Pool B next year. The current best team in the world, Ireland, and world champions South Africa. Deep joy…