Stuart McInally believes poor starts are hindering Scotland progress
Stuart McInally insists Scotland must learn to get out of the blocks quicker if they want to make strides in the RBS 6 Nations.
The Dark Blues had hoped to clinch a third-place finish when they travelled to Dublin to face Ireland on Saturday.
But they had to settle for one spot back after a disappointing 35-25 defeat at the Aviva Stadium.
Stuart Hogg did put his side ahead briefly with a daring solo break but most of the damage was done in the first half, especially after John Barclay was sinbinned.
With the Scarlets flanker off the field, Joe Schmidt's men ran in a pair of tries to regain control and from there, never looked back.
Another yellow card shown to Alex Dunbar then killed off any hopes Scotland had of mounting a comeback.
It was the second match running in which the Scots had failed to assert their authority from kick-off, although last week against France they did eventually race on to a 29-18 win.
But Edinburgh hooker McInally - a second-half substitute for club-mate Ross Ford - believes starting so slowly will only limit Vern Cotter's men as they look to put themselves among the contenders.
"We need to learn to start better," he said. "We started poorly against France and fortunately we managed to turn that around.
"But we started poorly again on Saturday and it is hindering us.
"We were slow out of the blocks and left ourselves a lot to do in the second half. We conceded a lot of penalties and probably got on the wrong side of the referee, which didn't help.
"We were forced to play in the second half because we were behind on the scoreboard but I felt we actually played some good stuff after half-time and proved, when we hold onto the ball, we're a dangerous team.
"We need to sort out these little mistakes like not looking after the ball, though. A few silly errors are costing us.
"The discipline is something we're going to have to look at, too. Playing with 14 men for 20 minutes is always going to be tough at this level.
"I'd say we have improved, though. If you go back to the first game against England we were below par.
"We played better against Wales before getting the wins over Italy and France.
"But in Dublin we did well to get 25 points and score more tries than we have done in recent years, so we're happy with that aspect.
"We just want to get better and better every time we take the field. We have made strides forward but we've still got a long way to go to start winning trophies."
McInally has been left in the role of understudy hooker at club level and is now filling the same slot for the Scots, with the Gunners front-row of Al Dickinson, Ford and WP Nel a regular fixture in Cotter's starting line-up.
But Ford's displays have varied in their effectiveness and the 99-cap forward may find his position under threat if McInally can find the kind of consistency his rival has failed to produce.
For now, though, the converted former flanker is just happy learning his trade at the highest level.
He said: "I've not played a hell of a lot of rugby following my injury at the World Cup.
"I got a good 30-minute run out against Ireland though and I'm just really enjoying playing hooker for Scotland.
"That's something I didn't think I'd ever be saying five years ago when I was playing in the back-row.
"But I love the extra responsibility of scrummaging and throwing the line-outs and I feel I can add a lot around the park. Getting game time at this level is definitely helping me to improve."