Scotland lock Jim Hamilton wants to end his career having won a Six Nations title and believes that is a realistic prospect.
The Scots have won just one of their four Six Nations matches so far this season — and that a last gasp success over bottom of the table Italy.
Earlier in the Championship they suffered a humiliating 20-0 loss to England in Edinburgh.
They were just some 80 seconds away from beating title contenders France at Murrayfield on Sunday only for Jean-Marc Doussain to convert a somewhat fortunately-awarded penalty to give Les Bleus a lucky 19-17 win.
Scotland have not won the tournament since claiming the final edition of the then-Five Nations in 1999 and 31-year-old Hamilton, who plays his club rugby for French side Montpellier, knows he may not have many more chances to lift the Championship trophy.
“We’ve had to go to some dark places, especially after that England game,” Hamilton said. “We know we didn’t play well. It was a shocking day at the office. We have had to believe in what we are doing to come out of those places and the coaches certainly believe in where we are going.”
“We’ve isolated ourselves in the squad so that we can stick together and make sure we keep everything in-house, pulling in the same direction,” he said. “You can see in certain aspects of the France game that we are definitely going in the right direction.”
“Maybe a lot of supporters are getting sick of hearing that but as players we want that consistency and we want to win games,” Hamilton said. “Me personally, I am getting on a bit now and my ambition before I finish playing is to win a Championship.”
“I wouldn’t keep coming back, leaving my two kids and wife at home in France, if I didn’t believe in this squad that we have,” Hamilton added. “I genuinely believe that we are getting closer to that point where we can challenge. I know it’s all if, buts and maybes and that people have heard it all before.”
“But if we keep putting in performances like we did against France and keep believing in what we are doing, there are a lot of young players in this squad who can take us there,” Hamilton said.
Meanwhile Hamilton refused to blame New Zealand referee Chris Pollock for Sunday’s loss.
“No-one ever agrees with the ref if you lose. If you win, you say he’s done an alright job,” he said. “We have got to adapt to that. It’s the same for both sides and I’m not going to say the ref is the reason for us not winning.”
“We were comfortable against France at times and we have only got ourselves to blame,” Hamilton said.
Scotland conclude the tournament away to Wales, beaten 29-18 by England last weekend, in Cardiff on Saturday.
Hamilton says his side can shake off Saturday’s disappointment to win in Cardiff.
“Going down to Wales will be tough,” Hamilton said. “They are the reigning champions, a fantastic team. “The Millennium Stadium is an unbelievable place to play in.”
“But we are going down there with the mindset of winning the game. That’s all we can do. We are disappointed with result on Saturday but will go to Wales and give it our best shot,” Hamilton added.