Scottish Daily Mail

Fast show succeeds but Finn needs to focus


NO PAUSE for breath, no secondand-a-half lull in which the French might set their defensive line. No let-up in a pace that went from relentless to murderous on an unwavering upward curve — sending the visitors tumbling off the treadmill in an undignifie­d blue heap.

Gregor Townsend has always maintained that playing ‘the fastest rugby in the world’ doesn’t mean flinging the ball wider, wider and wider still at every opportunit­y.

Yesterday at Murrayfiel­d, we caught a glimpse of what he’s been talking about. Thanks to a pack who squared up to a monstrous French forward unit — and left them gasping for air.

In short, Townsend’s Scotland team showed us how the swashbuckl­ing style he brought from Glasgow can be shaped not just to the madcap fun of autumn friendlies, but the bruising realities of the Six Nations. Call it Toonie 2.0, if you like.

Nobody, least of all the head coach himself, would pretend that this was a perfect performanc­e.

There are serious questions about Finn Russell’s state of mind, following a performanc­e of jagged edges and glaring, galling, damaging mental errors.

Famously not prone to over-thinking anything, Scotland’s stand-out stand-off needs to clear his head in the week-and-a-bit before unstoppabl­e England come rolling into town. We cannot afford another performanc­e like this in such a key position.

Fortunatel­y, for everyone concerned, Greig Laidlaw was on hand to take charge of the situation yesterday.

Undisputed man of the match, captain in all but name, the scrum-half was supposed to put a reassuring hand on the shoulder of Russell in times of stress. Which he did.

And, when even a quiet word wasn’t enough, Townsend made the boldest of calls. By asking Laidlaw to do the job himself.

Now that’s on-field leadership. Playing two positions brilliantl­y. Knocking over eight out of eight kicks. And helping skipper John Barclay to rally the troops during that early onslaught from the French.

The Murrayfiel­d crowd had been silenced by the visitors scoring a try inside the opening three minutes. A case of deja vu? Well, kind of.

Conceding two tries in half an hour was not good. Scoring one in response offered only partial encouragem­ent.

All week, however, the Scots had spoken about continuall­y knocking down the big guys in an almost comically over-sized French XV.

Take them to the mat often enough, went the theory, and sooner or later they would be too knackered to do anything but lie all over the ball. Kind of nice when a plan comes together, isn’t it?

The key to turning best-laid schemes into reality yesterday was an intensity that would have tested the sprint stamina of the fittest athletes in the game.

Because France had turned up to play for a new piece of silverware, the Auld Alliance Trophy, fully prepared for the same old street fight that favours their traditiona­l strengths.

Yes, Teddy Thomas has the wheels to exploit gaps created by the gang of rotters in the pack. But the flair is always an added extra with the French.

Traditiona­lly, England barely even bother with the latter. Don’t expect thrills aplenty when renta-gob Eddie Jones and the most suspicious­ly offside defensive line in world rugby come barrelling up to Murrayfiel­d braying for blood.

Scotland will need to defend better, attack with more accuracy, improve their kicking from hand by about a thousand per cent … and, even then, they might not be good enough to win the Calcutta Cup.

But yesterday at least restores some equilibriu­m. After the absolute omnishambl­es of Cardiff, here was evidence that the Scots can still play a bit.

If it wasn’t enough to make amends for that mauling by Wales, a record points haul against France in Edinburgh should be a source of moderate pride.

The pace has been set. As the Six Nations takes a two-week breather, Scotland spend the interim building up a head of steam — ready to start the way they finished yesterday.

At speed. Always at speed. P.S. REMOVING the glass from the coaching boxes at Murrayfiel­d means it’s possible to overhear some real tactical and technical gems from the men behind the master plan. Take the moment yesterday when, despite being a good hundred-odd yards from the pitch, one unidentifi­able member of the Scotland camp cried: ‘Gilcho — f ****** take it on!’ Which Grant Gilchrist did. Forcing France to concede a penalty at a crucial moment. Good call, coach. Good call.

 ??  ?? Good and bad: the swashbuckl­ing Scots saw off the French but Russell must cut out the errors
Good and bad: the swashbuckl­ing Scots saw off the French but Russell must cut out the errors

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