Greig Laidlaw believes Scotland are chapping on the door of the world’s rugby elite after pushing South Africa close at Murrayfield.
The Scotland captain was left to curse missed opportunities as the Dark Blues were edged out 26-20.
But he saw enough in a brave display against a Springboks side which shot down the All Blacks only two months ago to convince him his side are not far away from claiming they sit alongside the best teams on the planet.
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Asked where the result leaves Scotland, the Clermont Auvergne scrum-half replied: “I honestly believe we are right up there. (Head coach) Gregor (Townsend) spoke in the changing room after the game that he feels South Africa are really up there in terms of the top two or three teams in the world.
“We showed that we are right in these games, on another day we can win so we are going in the right direction.
“We are disappointed we have lost but we need to put that to the side and bounce back next week and give a strong performance against Argentina.”
Jesse Kriel crashed over for the opening try just six minutes in but the Dark Blues soon responded when two audacious bits of skill from Huw Jones teed-up Peter Horne.
The visitors were back in front within seconds though as Handre Pollard danced home for their second but a clever line-out move put Hamish Watson over as Scotland refused to be bullied.
The second half was a quieter affair and that suited the visitors, who held on for victory largely thanks to the 13 points Pollard contributed with his boot.
But Scotland were left to ponder ‘what if’ when – with 17 minutes left – they opted to kick to the corner rather than take an easy penalty when just three points down.
The gamble failed to pay off but Laidlaw stood by his call.
“We had opportunities to win the game so we are pretty frustrated,” he said. “But you have to give credit to South Africa. The way they defended and slowed the ball up made it difficult for us in the second-half.
“We are disappointed as we were right in the game and we scored a couple of well-constructed tries.
“There was a lot of bravery and effort went into the game and we could certainly have won.
“Should we have kicked the penalty? In hindsight it’s easy and I thought about kicking the points but the two previous mauls probably pushed us into going for the corner.
“I have always been aggressive in my thinking, I back myself and I back the team but it’s disappointing. South Africa had another two kicks at goal so we probably would have had to score again to win the game.
“Potentially we could have moved the scoreboard and gone level but maybe when we look back we gave away seven points from an exit so we almost shot ourselves in the foot after doing really well to get ourselves back into the game.
“We will look at that and move on and look to finish strongly against Argentina next week.”