WITH two minutes left on the clock, a full-house at Murrayfield rose as one to salute Stuart Hogg, who had just been announced as the game’s man-of-the match. Never one to hide his emotions, the Scottish full-back sported a grin as wide as the elastic on WP Nel’s jockstrap, as he turned towards the North Stand to receive a rousing salute from his jubilant audience.

His team were eleven points to the good and they had just earned themselves another scrum against an increasingly frustrated French pack – which had struggled all afternoon to force the issue in the face of a well-drilled and coolly disciplined home forward unit. Victory was Scotland’s, and he was ready to savour the moment.

“It was brilliant. Going into that last scrum the game was won, so I was smiling away with them [the crowd]. We’ve had unbelievable support, not just here but over in Italy during our last game as well. We worked incredibly hard to get this win for ourselves but also for our fans and it was gerat that we were far enough ahead that we could enjoy that moment with them,” he said.

“I’m not sure that it was [our most complete performance under Vern Cotter]. I’d say we’ve played better at times. We missed a fair few tackles in defence, which wasn’t good enough – but  you can’t be too downbeat after a result like that.”

“There is definitely more to come. You never get the complete performance, so we’ll continue to work hard on the training pitch and see what the game-plan is next weekend to hopefully get another win across in Ireland.”

Even the notoriously taciturn Greig Laidlaw couldn’t keep the smile from his face, punching the air with delight when that last scrum decision went Scotland’s way, and then speaking with unprecedented candour about his team’s high expectations for their trip to Dublin next weekend.

“We knew France would come and try to steamroller us but I thought we fronted up and we finished the stronger team. We were probably the fitter side and I think it showed in the closing stages. We defended well when we needed to and the fact that we put away three tries is really pleasing for the team,” beamed the Scottish skipper.

“We’re not just happy winning two games, we want to win three games; and to win two games away from home would be outstanding. There’s a six day turnaround [before the Ireland match] so there is a big emphasis this week on recovery for the players so we’ll be professional about that to make sure we are in the best shape possible for the game.”

Meanwhile, head coach Vern Cotter hailed Scotland’s victory as “humongous”, before heaping praise on his team for the way they adapted to the loss of stand-off Finn Russell with less than five minutes played, to go on and claim a first win over the French in a decade.

“It was a well-constructed performance. When you lose your playmaker and they score a try while you have fourteen players on the field, to come back and show composure to get the win is great. I think it showed a lot of qualities and I’m really pleased for the players who worked hard,” he said.

“It wasn’t perfect but we put the necessary effort in and played to our strengths, and I’m pleased that we got the result we deserved. The players worked hard and they were focussed all the way through. There was a lot of good things constructed on the paddock, but there was good character as well and I thought that was important, as well as composure at critical times when the French had us under pressure.”

Stern Vern was clearly pleased at what he had just witnessed, but the formidable New Zealander was hell-bent on not getting carried away by the moment.

“I think we can get better. We managed to get what we wanted and what we worked all week for, but I think there was things we can improve on. Yes, there was pleasing aspects, especially in scoring three tries, in our defence and character-wise, so I am pleased we got through – but it wasn’t perfect,” he insisted.

About David Barnes 3956 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.