NAPOLEON might have been a Frenchman but when his countrymen invade Murrayfield this coming Sunday they will come against a Scotland team who have a little general of their own – and Greig Laidlaw says that he and his troops have a simple but effective battle-plan for defeating their continental opponents.
The heavy artillery in the home pack have been told that they must fight fire with fire in the trenches, while respect for the opposition and pugnacious self-discipline will be crucial if Scotland are to build the momentum they need in order to claim victory over the French for the first time in a decade.
This is not going to be a death or glory type of performance from the Scots, rather a tactical campaign focussed on patience and playing the percentages.
“France are a big, physical side, they like to have a dominant set-piece, so that’s our starting point – to get a foothold in the game,” said the 30-year-old scrum-half, who will not only win his 50th cap on Sunday, but also equal David Sole’s record of leading the national side on 25 occasions.
“We’ll worry about ourselves as the first port of call, but clearly we respect France. They are a good team, with good players, who are well coached. They’ll bring big physicality and we’ll need to deal with that first and foremost.
“We do not want to give them as much ball as we gave Italy. We cannot afford to do that,” he continued. “There will be times in the game when we are under the pump and they will have a purple patch, and that’s when we need to back ourselves as a defensive unit. I think we are coming on and the defence is becoming more consistent. We need to defend together and defend to get the ball back.”
“We will look closely at France. We will know the enemy inside out by the time we come to the game. We’re not going to over emphasise that because we need to worry about ourselves a fair bit, but we need to understand who we are playing against – the players and their traits. If we do that we will be more comfortable going into the game in terms of where we are trying to attack and what weak points we can exploit.”
“Both Scotland and France have the biggest percentage of ball retention [in the Six Nations this year], so I think if France look at that they’ll understand we’re difficult to get the ball off. That’s the key for us – that we don’t panic, we don’t force any silly offloads, and we don’t let them get away easily out of their own half. We keep hold of the ball and build our phases, and we try and build our scores three at a time, plus hopefully pick up a try or two.
“The flipside is obviously that France like to hold on to the ball as well. They come in tight to the rucks, they pick and go, and they’re sometimes hard to get the ball off as well. So we’ll need to be very disciplined in attack and in defence.”
With this match representing something of a landmark occasion for Laidlaw, he took a rare step away from focussing of the mechanics of the job in hand to reflect on the highs and lows of his time as one of Scotland’s key men.
“It has been enjoyable [but] tough at times as well. All you can do is try to affect what is in front of you. You will never get back what has happened so you are always learning as a captain [and] as a player. I just want to win as many games as I can in the Scotland jersey in my career. That’s all I’m focussing on,” he said.
“I wouldn’t say it has changed me but it is fair to say I am more comfortable in the role now. It is like anything, I feel I have got the respect of the dressing room now and have developed my relationship with the coaches over a bit of time. Obviously a new coaching team came and they wanted to make sure I was the right captain. I am comfortable in the role and along with some other boys in the team we are starting to produce a leadership group. We need to take advantage of that and win more games.”
“For me to be in the same category (as the likes of Sole, Gavin Hastings and so on) is a huge honour. They were my idols when I was growing up. They had their time in the jersey and they are part of the history. They had a bit of success and I would like to emulate that. That’s where we want to go with this team. It is a huge honour to be captain as I have always said, it is a great privilege and something I will never take for granted.”
“You feel the full brunt of it as captain, going straight to press conferences after the game, speaking at all the functions, it is sometimes hard – and that’s when you rely on the other leaders around you to help you out. On the flip-side when you win it is great to have that feeling as a captain. Ultimately we win and lose together and the players understand that. They are 100 per cent behind me and we feel like we are going in the right direction, but we all know that we have to start showing that consistently in terms of results.”
“This is a huge game for us, an absolutely massive game” he concluded. “We’ve beaten Italy but ultimately we’ve not done much. That’s just a starting point. We’re not going to sit back and take a breath; we’re going to move forward.”