Scotland v France reaction: ‘We dug ourselves out of a hole’ – Greig Laidlaw

Scotland captain hails defensive effort and team's maturity when turning things around after last weekend's setback

Greig Laidlaw celebrates with his team-mates after Chris Harris' try. Image: © Craig Watson -

A LOT of questions remain unanswered about this Scotland squad, and their readiness for next month’s World Cup – but they did deliver an emphatic response to their critics this [Saturday] afternoon on two fronts. Those who had doubted their commitment to the jersey and their ability to win ugly must now reconsider the validity of those assessments.

While the sight of at least two players waving and blowing kisses to their family in the stand during the national anthems just before kick-off suggested that the focus was not fully on the task in hand, we have to accept that different personalities motivate themselves in different ways.

When the game kicked off, it felt as if the team’s detractors would be proven right when a wild pass from Peter Horne in the approximate direction of Stuart Hogg gifted France yet another early try – but this time the roof didn’t cave in.

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“It was good because we won a test match against a good French team,” said captain Greig Laidlaw, whose calming influence and rugby smarts were crucial to keeping the team on track during a game in which Scotland struggled to hit their stride. “We talked about the first ten minutes and starting well, and we certainly did not do that, so we put ourselves under pressure.The pleasing thing is that we had good eyes out on the field, and we listened to what our leaders said in attack and defence and dug ourselves out of a hole.

“We held good composure to score a try just before half time,” he continued. “The crowd maybe thought we had blown the opportunity, but we took our time and got our try and helped turn things around. We managed to claw our way into it, slowly but steadily. Defence won us the game in the end.”

The Scotland squad have been heavily criticised this week after last Saturday’s abject showing in the South of France. Some of it was proportionate and some of it was way over the top. To suggest that any player who has managed to get themselves into the sort of physical condition necessary to come within 100 yards of a Scotland jersey lacks ‘personal motivation’ is preposterous. But there is no doubting – and it has been accepted by the squad – that they got their approach to last weekend’s match very wrong.

Playing for the jersey

“The jersey, the history and what goes with it … it is a given to be fired up,” was Laidlaw’s take on it. “The boys were hurting from last week and we wanted to do well for them, too. They never went out there to get that result last week, so it was important, both for the jersey, and momentum as well, to beat a good French team going into the World Cup.

“We look ahead now to away in Georgia which will be a different test for different reasons, and we want to take momentum into the World Cup.”

While two lapses gifted France their two first half tries, Scotland’s overall defensive performance – characterised by a big step up in urgency from last week – was a cause for particular satisfaction. Gregor Townsend pointed out after the match that his team had forced 15 turnovers in the first half.

“We were defending for large parts really well,” agreed Laidlaw. “We essentially switched off twice, one from an intercept and one was a turnover. Apart from these two things against a dangerous team they were not getting any space.

“We caused them a lot of problems and they dropped a lot of balls. If we can keep teams to as little as 14-points, we will always back our attack to score more than that.

“[The second half] was a really mature performance. It is Test match rugby: about outscoring the opposition. We built slowly into the game.”

Psychological boost

Meanwhile, man-of-the-match Hamish Watson said that this result can be a huge psychological boost to the team ahead of their trip to Tbilisi next weekend to take on a Georgia side who will be champing at the bit to cause some damage against a Six Nations side.

“It’s always nice to get man-of-the-match, but obviously the bigger picture and the more important thing is the win today, at home,” he said. “It felt like almost a must-win game in some ways – we hadn’t won here since the Italy game [on 9th February] and we had a few close ones during the Six Nations, so there was a lot of pressure on us after last weekend. If we’d lost that game we’d almost be back to square one.

“We demanded a win as a player group, and the coaches also demanded a win, so it was great to go out there and after a tough start to face that adversity and get the win.

“If we lose today it puts huge amounts of pressure on those Georgia games to build momentum.

“I’m not sure what sort of team the boss is going to pick [next week], but definitely, if I get the chance to pull on the Scotland jersey, I’ve got to go out there and do a job. We’re the first Tier One team to go out there, so it’s going to be a really tough challenge and it’s going to be challenging weather conditions as well.

“There will be a hostile crowd, tough conditions, hot and humid. It will be a tough test and it will be good to get that away win.

“We’ve got to try and keep this momentum going now, build momentum to our final home game then obviously that puts us in good stead for the World Cup.

“Our pre-season has been really tough, and I think after last weekend a few people were sort of questioning what we’ve been up to. It didn’t reflect well last weekend on us as a player group, and I think it was good to go out there and put it all right

“I think that France result last week was a good thing in a way because it showed that if we’re not 100 percent we will be punished.”

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About David Barnes 3911 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he 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.