Scottish Daily Mail


Perfect points haul from talismanic No9 just one part of what he offers


THE kicking was immaculate. Taken for granted, perhaps. But it’s the other qualities Greig Laidlaw brings to Scotland that came to the fore yesterday.

Ten minutes in and the home side were 10-0 down to France, and echoes of that derailing, dispiritin­g opening period against Wales the weekend before were beginning to drown out what had been a boisterous Murrayfiel­d.

In Cardiff, Gregor Townsend’s men had been swept away, unable to cope with the pressure, unable to stem the Welsh tide. Skipper John Barclay suffered under the weight, his side going to pieces.

This time, he was not alone. Laidlaw, who had held the captaincy himself up until injury in last year’s Championsh­ip, and another who has matured beyond recognitio­n of late, Ryan Wilson, both stepped up after being reinstated to the starting XV.

They were inspiratio­nal. This time, the Scots would not surrender. This time, they were a different propositio­n.

‘We went with a plan against Wales but with Test match rugby somebody’s not just going to give you what you want and I think we can take a lot of learning from the Welsh game,’ said Laidlaw after surpassing the 600-point mark for his country. ‘We were playing against 14 men in the front line today and sometimes you just have to take your medicine.

‘Do you want to kick the ball away? Not really, but we were willing to do it and put them under pressure.

‘We found that balance. Early in the game, when it was sticky, we were saying don’t panic, stay in the game, get the ball down the field and force France to do something special from 75 metres. That was the learning curve from last week and we were delighted.’

Within three minutes of going ten points behind, the Scots had bulldozed their way back into the game, with Sean Maitland going over after some terrific work from second-row duo Jonny Gray and Grant Gilchrist.

The French, through the terrific Teddy Thomas, would go over again but Townsend’s men, like a tenacious Scottie dog, held tight to their ankles and could not be shaken off. Huw Jones, back at outside centre, found the form and angle of attack that have highlighte­d his internatio­nal career by bursting through the French defence to touchdown.

The pass weighted perfectly, of course, by Laidlaw. It would be a final score achieved with the boot as the game suddenly changed from an open affair to a tense, high-tempo forward battle.

The Scots wore the French down, both at the breakdown and with the metronomic nature of Laidlaw’s boot. His final stats were eight from eight, with a personal total of 22 points. A great return from a great return…

‘It’s felt like a while (since I’ve started for Scotland), to be honest,’ admitted Laidlaw. ‘I’m not a great watcher so it’s brilliant to be back out there in front of our own people at Murrayfiel­d.

‘We got our feet on the ground, did everyone proud, including ourselves, and rejuvenate­d each other from a poor performanc­e last time. It was tremendous to turn that around after a sticky first half. To finish really strongly showed how fit we are.

‘I thought we played really well in the last 20 minutes.’

The faith Townsend has in Laidlaw was best illustrate­d by his double substituti­on on 64 minutes. Off went stand-off Finn Russell, who had struggled badly with his kicking. Off went skipper Barclay. Laidlaw was moved to No10 to allow Ali Price to fill in at scrum-half. The message was clear. Scotland couldn’t do without Laidlaw on the pitch.

‘Barcs is the captain and I’ll help him,’ he continued. ‘No matter if I’m named captain or not, my role stays the same: you’re a leader as a half-back and a nine.

‘I’ve benefited when I’ve been captain from strong leaders around me. It’s invaluable. So I’ll be there to sit in beside Barcs and help him and push the standards.’

And as for the surprise move to stand-off? ‘Gregor gave me the head’s up this morning (that it might happen),’ revealed Laidlaw. ‘It was a bit of a surprise. Thankfully the forwards got on top at the end of the game. I didn’t have to do too much, just distribute and that is credit to the pack.

‘I think Dents (David Denton) coming on off the bench, he carried very well and I don’t think the French were enjoying that, having to go backwards.’

Of course, if Russell had been playing well, Townsend may have had a harder decision to make. As it was, the Glasgow star’s form remains a source of concern.

‘Yeah, he missed touch a couple of times, but the good thing about Finn is he realises that happens,’ said Laidlaw.

‘He still had a lot of good touches within the game, his attacking game, so he’ll go away from it (and think about it). It was a difficult game for everybody down in Wales.

‘He’ll go away and analyse the game and everybody round about him will help him.

‘We’ll get going for two weeks’ time against England. He’s a classy operator and he just needs time in the saddle to get going in the Six Nations. For 40 minutes today he did a lot of good things, as well.’

Now, the Scots move on. There had been questions over whether Townsend had a ‘Plan B’ and they seem to have been answered. However, England will bring an altogether different challenge. It’s one Laidlaw wants to meet head on.

‘Yes, we do (feel we can beat anyone at Murrayfiel­d),’ he insisted. ‘That’s shown in our results.

‘We were only beaten in the last calendar year by New Zealand and that was a five-point margin. We feel we can beat anybody.

‘I think we’ll have to play better than we did today to beat England. They are a great team, they have shown what a great defence they have as well.

‘Again, we might have to look at some kicking options and play smartly when that one rolls around. For the minute, we’ll analyse ourselves in depth and come back better in a couple of weeks.

‘It’s going to be difficult but it’s a game — if we turn up and play the right rugby — we are going to be in it.’

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