Scottish Daily Mail


Brave Scots prove worth after passing serious test of character

- By ROB ROBERTSON Rugby Correspond­ent

Worth every penny. As Scotland players prepare to ask the SrU to up their Six Nations match-day pay packets, they showed against France that on their day they are worth a fortune.

Man of the match Greig Laidlaw didn’t miss once as he put over six penalties and two conversion­s to overcome the French. he also answered the call when his team needed a calming influence in those crucial, dramatic last 15 minutes when the game was tied at 26-26 and hanging in the balance.

on the day Sportsmail revealed the Scotland players are considerin­g forming their own union in a bid to boost the money they are paid to represent their country, Laidlaw was more valuable than anyone.

Scotland head coach Gregor townsend showed real bravery in the first place to take off the out-of-touch Finn russell at that key moment. Yes, he was having a shocker but this was the man who could be quiet for 79 minutes then turn the game in a flash of genius.

on came Ali Price at scrum-half with Laidlaw moving from nine to ten to replace russell. At the same time, captain John Barclay was taken off and replaced as skipper by Laidlaw and by David Denton in the back row.

From that moment there was a higher intensity to the Scotland performanc­e. the fans sensed it.

Flower of Scotland was belted out louder than ever.

the French looked tired and rattled and were struggling to hold on. Experience­d fly-half Lionel Beauxis dropped a simple catch to give away a penalty. their most confident players such as teddy thomas, who had scored two first-half tries, were starting to look nervous.

With Laidlaw in the driving seat, the game became Scotland’s for the taking. And, with ten minutes remaining, Laidlaw kicked a penalty that gave his team the lead for the first time in the match. the kick also took his personal Scotland tally through the 600-point barrier on the occasion of his 60th cap.

the French then cracked under relentless Scotland pressure, giving away a penalty in front of their posts with four minutes left that the man of the match put over.

Even then, Laidlaw had not finished influencin­g the game. It was still only a slender six-point lead and it needed an experience­d man to run down the clock.

he took firm control of that role after French replacemen­t Anthony Belleau kicked to the corner to give his team one last chance of snatching victory. But to massive cheers Ben toolis got through the maul to spoil French possession at the lineout and won a scrum for Scotland with a minute left.

All Scotland had to do was hold their own scrum ball for thirty seconds. they did even more than that, with Stuart McInally winning a penalty that ended the match.

With 80 minutes up, Laidlaw kicked the ball to touch to seal Scotland’s victory — a symbolic ending to a game in which he was magnificen­t.

this was a game where the French rapier-like attack was blunted by the Scots, who tackled hard from the first whistle and deserved all the praise heading their way.

townsend’s team put in a power of effort with Stuart hogg making 120 metres — more than anybody else on the pitch — as he tried to take the game to the French.

Scotland’s performanc­e was full of heart especially after they made the worst possible start, going behind after just two minutes.

thomas evaded russell and Peter horne on the touchline, and when he wrong-footed hogg he was in acres of space to dive over for the opening try. Maxime Machenaud put over the extras.

things did not get better when Barclay gave away a penalty 35 metres from his own line. Machenaud extended the French lead with the kick.

Scotland’s first attack off set-piece possession came through the backs with hogg’s kick ahead being put into touch five yards from the French line by full-back Geoffrey Palis.

From a splintered line-out drive, the ball went through five attacking

phases from one side of the pitch to the other. First, Jonny Gray took out Machenaud before finding Grant Gilchrist. The No5 did well to pass to Russell and he put Sean Maitland in at the corner. Laidlaw put over the extras.

Scotland were on the up, especially when they stole a lineout to raise expectatio­ns, but then Russell kicked the ball out on the full to put the Scots back to square one.

On 27 minutes, Thomas put France further ahead with more than a slice of luck.

The French winger chased his own kick and, although Laidlaw looked well placed to clean up the danger, his misjudgmen­t of the bounce of the ball allowed the winger to steal in and get his second try. Machenaud put over the conversion.

Russell’s dreadful display continued when he misjudged a simple kick to touch that went over the French dead-ball line. His smile as he kicked it out was fooling nobody.

It needed a touch of magic to break the French defence and Huw Jones provided it on 31 minutes. Gray and Gilchrist made the hard yards, Laidlaw popped up the pass and the centre went under the posts. Laidlaw put on another two points with his boot.

In the last play of the first half, Scotland coughed up a penalty at the lineout that allowed Machenaud to give his side a six-point half-time lead.

France suffered a major blow when the injured Machenaud did not emerge after the break. His replacemen­t Baptise Serin was penalised for coming in from the side, allowing Laidlaw to close the gap to three points.

Serin and Laidlaw traded kicks, before a 56th-minute penalty restored the French lead to six after referee John Lacey played an incredibly long advantage that had got the French nowhere.

Just before the hour mark, the French made three changes to their tiring pack.

With fifteen minutes left, two accurate penalty kicks under pressure from Laidlaw hauled Scotland level.

Townsend then made his big call. Off came Russell, Laidlaw moved to ten and Price came on at nine. Scotland captain Barclay was also withdrawn. On came Denton.

Laidlaw’s position may have changed, but his reliabilit­y with the boot did not and two penalties edged Scotland in front.

The 32-year-old used all his wiles and experience to help Townsend’s men see the game out.

England are up next. On this performanc­e, and with Laidlaw in such regal form, Scotland will go into the match full of confidence.

 ??  ?? Sweet redemption: Jones scored Scotland’s second try (main) after Maitland touched down (inset below) to help win the Auld Alliance trophy (inset left)
Sweet redemption: Jones scored Scotland’s second try (main) after Maitland touched down (inset below) to help win the Auld Alliance trophy (inset left)
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