Wednesday 18 July 2018

Scotland take the spoils thanks to Laidlaw's tour de force

Scotland 32 France 26

Scotland's Greg Laidlaw launches a kick. Photo: Pa
Scotland's Greg Laidlaw launches a kick. Photo: Pa

Richard Bath

Welcome to the Greig Laidlaw show. Twenty-two points from his boot and no misses speaks volumes, but it doesn't say it all. This was a tour de force, for which Laidlaw's Man of the Match award scarcely seems adequate, because rarely has a match at this level been so dominated by one player, especially one who hasn't started a Test for a year.

After France scored a worryingly soft try within three minutes of the restart, this match could easily have run away from a nervous Scotland side which looked palpably short of confidence after last week's defeat in Cardiff.

Scotland's Tommy Seymour bursts down the line. Photo: PA
Scotland's Tommy Seymour bursts down the line. Photo: PA

Scotland eventually ground out a win that was a testament to their strength of character, though a vast amount of the credit for that has to go to Laidlaw's tactical acumen.

His stamp was all over this game, whether it was his tactical direction from scrum-half, the way he took over at stand-off when another Finn Russell horror show looked like costing Scotland dear, or the way he kept banging over penalties to drag Scotland into the box seat after they had looked perilously close to losing when trailing by six points at half-time.

Laidlaw last started a Test at No. 10 against Tonga in 2012 under Andy Robinson, but after Gregor Townsend moved the 32-year-old there on 64 minutes he displayed a hard-nosed pragmatism that saw Scotland edge a match which they desperately needed to win, but which had seemed out of their grasp for so long.

"Greig played well," said Townsend afterwards. "People probably don't pick up a lot of what Greig does outside of his passing and kicking, such as managing the team. Greig and Ryan Wilson had a big influence on how the team responded to errors, and he made some really good decisions."

Scotland’s Ali Price is tackled by France’s Remi Lamerat. Photo: Reuters
Scotland’s Ali Price is tackled by France’s Remi Lamerat. Photo: Reuters

Scotland's day began in disastrous fashion. There was barely two minutes on the clock when France crossed the whitewash; Teddy Thomas, haring down the wing and through the tackles of Russell and Peter Horne, before cutting inside Stuart Hogg and under the posts.

Scrum-half Maxime Machenaud added a penalty, but Sean Maitland went some way to atoning for his part in Thomas's first try when he finished off a swirling move in the corner, with Laidlaw converting.

France extended their lead midway through the first period when Thomas again made headway down the touchline with a fortunate bounce allowing him to retrieve his own kick to score.

Scotland were not down for long, though. Five minutes later they put together comfortably their best passage - Jonny Gray, Grant Gilchrist, Simon Berghan all made inroads and, when Laidlaw popped the ball up to the onrushing Huw Jones, the centre carved through the French defence to go under the posts.

Scotland’s John Barclay celebrates with the the Auld Alliance Trophy. Photo: Reuters
Scotland’s John Barclay celebrates with the the Auld Alliance Trophy. Photo: Reuters

There followed a period of tit-for-tat penalties which started just before half-time, when Machenaud kicked France 20-14 ahead.

Eight minutes into the second-half France led 26-20, but, with Scotland's forwards wearing down France's big men and referee John Lacey punishing the visitors' lack of discipline at the breakdown, four unanswered penalties from Laidlaw saw Scotland home for a much-needed victory.

Scotland's Huw Jones is tackled. Photo: PA
Scotland's Huw Jones is tackled. Photo: PA

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport