IT was a strange sort of atmosphere under the stands at Murrayfield after Scotland had shown their pragmatic side to squeeze out a 32-26 victory over France, which does not completely banish the painful memory of last week’s capitulation in Cardiff, but does at least give the team some positive momentum to work with ahead of taking on the might of England in two weeks time.
There wasn’t much whooping and high-fiving going on, more a quiet sense of satisfaction at having got the job done. The result was not achieved in the style this team aspire to, but they did manage to prove that they are not – as has been widely suggested this week – completely naïve about what it takes to grind out a win when the game tightens up.
“There’s a fair bit of relief, actually. You would think we’d be bouncing but with the hangover from last week … everyone is just so relieved to get a win against a really good French side. We’re pleased to be in the changing room with a victory now and have a week off then focussing in on the next game,” said Scotland captain John Barclay.
“We haven’t become a dreadful team just because of the Wales game. That’s why we’re relieved. We’re also delighted for the fans who put all that faith in us. That’s for them.”
Scotland got off to the worst possible start when visiting winger Teddy Thomas was allowed to escape up the right touchline to open the scoring within three minutes of kick-off – and there were one or two more hairy moments in the first half as the team struggled to recapture the self-belief which had been so badly shaken eight days earlier – but they hung In there to grind out a well-earned victory in the end, largely thanks to a perfect goal-kicking display from scrum-half Greig Laidlaw.
French indiscipline at the breakdown allowed Laidlaw to kick six penalties during the second half to secure the win.
“Over the last two years, in the closing stages, we’ve been quite accurate, so we know the calls we need to make and how we want to play it. We made the right decisions in the closing period and managed it very well from that perspective today,” said Barclay.
“We had to tidy up the breakdown, that was our main target at half-time. And we saw in the second half the effect of playing at tempo: if teams want to keep committing bodies to breakdown, they have to be accurate and the fitness tells – they start to give away a lot of penalties and it gets harder and harder for them.”
Barclay added that there had been no panic within Scottish ranks when they lost that early try.
“Every time we got our hands on the ball it looked like we were causing them problems, so the message was to keep working, keep getting our hands on the ball, keep accelerating into contact,” he explained.
“The way France defend, they compete heavily so it can go one of two ways and, in this instance, they were giving away a lot of penalties – so it was frustrating that we couldn’t get as much clean ball as we’d have liked, but we were getting a lot penalties and Greig kept knocking them over.”