A relieved Greig Laidlaw has demanded improvements from Scotland despite seeing them come from behind to see off France in the Six Nations.
It took a faultless display of kicking from the recalled Laidlaw to get Scotland’s campaign back on track with a 32-26 win over Les Bleus in Edinburgh following another slow start.
Scotland went into the game on the back of a humiliating defeat in Cardiff last week, and it looked as though they might be in for another tough afternoon after going 10-0 behind in the opening minutes before the scrum-half led the fightback with 22 points from the boot along with tries from Huw Jones and Sean Maitland.
France faded badly in the second period after flying out of the blocks with a brace from winger Teddy Thomas, and Laidlaw admitted the hosts need to improve against tournament favourites England in two weeks time if they are to pick anything up from the game.
“We can beat anyone but I think we will have to play better than we did today to beat England,” the former skipper said. “England are a good team and have showed what a great defence they have.
“We might need to look at kicking options and play smartly when that game rolls around but for the minute, we will analyse ourselves in depth and come back better in a couple of weeks.”
He added: “The second-half performance was good, (but) we’ll have to look at the first half.
“It’s going to have to go up a notch to beat England.
“England are playing really well again at the minute.
“Clearly they’re on a big run so it’ll be a tough game, but is it a game if we turn up and play the right rugby we’re going to be in? I believe so.”
Laidlaw’s inclusion marked an intention to deviate slightly from the free-flowing rugby that Scotland impressed with so much during the autumn, and it eventually paid off as they got their first win of the campaign to the relief of the players and coaching staff, who found themselves 26-20 down with 20 minutes to go before their superior fitness told.
The Clermont man, who later shifted to fly-half as the disappointing Finn Russell was substituted, admitted lessons had been learned from last week, saying: “We are relieved.
Sometimes Test-match Rugby is not ideal.
“In the first half France were slowing our ball up so sometimes you just have to take your medicine, get downfield and play a bit of a kicking game and I thought we did that today.
“Do we want to kick the ball away? Not really, but are we willing to do it to put pressure on them? Absolutely.
“I think we found that balance today to stay in the game and force France to do something special.
“That was a real learning curve from last week to this week so we are delighted to get that shift.” Not surprisingly Scotland coach Gregor Townsend was pleased his team were able to bounce back after the disappointing loss to Wales last weekend.
“I’m happier than last week, that’s for sure!” he said.
“The effort it takes to win a Test match is huge, and when you have to do it being behind for most of the game, that shows the character of the squad and the togetherness.
“We were a bit more direct, and we got our rewards.” He also said the decision to switch Laidlaw to No10 during the game was pre-planned.
“It was mentioned during the week (moving Laidlaw to fly-half ), and we ran a couple of plays this morning,” Townsend continued.
“It was seeing how Greig was, and it looked like he could last the 80, but Ali Price brings so much from the bench (at scrum-half ).
“He really upped the pace and Greig’s kicking was pretty good, so bringing Ali onto the ball was pretty positive to the team.”
Surprisingly Townsend did not empty his bench, which is so often the norm in modern Test rugby, opting to keep faith with his side in the ascendancy and only using four of his possible eight replacements.
Instead he limited his tweaks to Jamie Bhatti and Ben Toolis (both on 58 minutes) and David Denton and Price (both on 65 minutes), all who had strong impacts.
Greig Laidlaw landed 22-points in a flawless kicking display as Scotland fought back to record a 32-26 win over France at Murrayfield – their first win of the 2018 Six Nations. Here are our three takeaways from the match.
Welcome back Greig
Greig Laidlaw might have started slowly and gave away a try to Teddy Thomas with a freakish bounce but the more and more he got his hands on the ball the more the veteran scrumhalf began to dominate.
You could feel the younger players around him drawing strength from the authoritative presence of the 32-year-old and he had a big part in helping his side stay calm after they went behind 10-0 to a shock early try and penalty.
Laidlaw plays his rugby at Clermont Auvergne and clearly his experience of playing with and against French teams made a big difference and his flawless goal-kicking in the end was the difference between the two teams, as he landed eight shots from eight attempts for 22 points.
Ali Price may be the future but Laidlaw needs to be the present. He even showed his versatility slotting in to the fly-half role when a mis-firing Finn Russell was removed after 65 minutes.
Thomas is becoming a deadly finisher
Two games, three tries – the France right winger is becoming one of the most dangerous finishers in Europe. His first try was very similar to his superb score last week against Ireland.
He received a nothing ball on the sideline around halfway, got on the outside of two players then cut inside, breaking through the tackle of Stuart Hogg and outsprinting the cover defence to score.
Coming after just three minutes the try put a knife through the heart of the Scottish team and a packed Murrayfield.
His second on 27 minutes was more speculative but again taken superbly.
He found some space out on the right, chipped ahead and the ball bounced wickedly allowing Thomas to pounce.
His stats for the match make impressive reading: seven runs, 54 metres made, two clean breaks, three defenders beaten and two offloads.
The problem for France is Thomas seems their only real attacking weapon. You wonder what Thomas could do if he was on the end of a dynamic back line or behind a forward pack actually going forward.
He’s the top tryscorer for the tournament to date and there’s a good chance he’ll bag several more before the 2018 Six Nations is done.
Expect high scores whenever these two teams play in the remaining three rounds.
Scotland have already shown in their two matches that they know their way to the tryline but keeping the other team out is proving a different story.
While for France, with a finisher as potent and in form as Thomas, they too can be expected to cross the chalk regularly but they will also be regularly conceding.
Both sides attacking stats were impressive.
Scotland made 410 metres with the ball in hand while France managed 315, Scotland also made 172 passes to France’s 122.
The Scots made seven clean breaks, beat 19 defenders and got away eight offloads. France made five clean breaks but even outshone the hosts with 22 defenders beaten and 13 offloads.
It all makes for impressive reading until you get to the tackle breakdown – Scotland made 83 tackles and missed a whopping 22 for a success ratio of just 79%, while France fared better making 108/127 for a ratio of 85%.
Compare this to England and Wales on Saturday: England made 165 of 188 tackles for 88% while Wales were even more impressive – 182/200 for 91%. So France and Scotland may need to score a lot more tries if they are to win again this year.
Try? No try?
According to Warren Gatland it was the decision that decided the match – Wales’ “disallowed try.”
It occurred in just the 23rd minute of the first half, so there was plenty of time for the destiny of the game to be altered, but in such a close contest it could have proved the difference.
Wales fly-half Rhys Patchell kicked across field in the England 22 to Steff Evans’ wing. The ball bounced just before the Welsh winger and rebounded off his knee into the in-goal.
It was then a mad scramble between England winger Anthony Watson and Gareth Anscombe – but who got there first?
The referee Jerome Garces’ first port of call was the linesman, Irishman George Clancy, who was standing just metres away.
Clancy tells him: “I think it comes off the knee of the red player and then is grounded by white.”
Garces then says: “We check the grounding. Glenn (Newman, the NZ TMO) – we want to know. Try – yes or no?”
This gives Newman a clean slate. He could have been asked – is there any reason why the try could not be awarded? Which gives Newman a different impetus to prove that the try was not scored.
It seems from the replays Anscombe clearly reached the ball first. Decide for yourself by clicking the video.
But Newman then decides and reports to Garces: “the ball has not been clearly grounded.”
Note he does not rule that Anscombe did not get there first – he rules that the ball was not clearly grounded.’
He then says: “The first grounding was by England therefore it is a five metre scrum.”
That ruling is wrong in two regards – Anscombe got there first and as the ball was taken over the line by Wales and Newman says then grounded by England, it should have been ruled a 22 drop-out.
However Garces was playing an advantage so he goes back for the Wales penalty, which Patchell duly landed. So in the end the decision only cost Wales a maximum of four points – not enough to alter the result.
Nonetheless the decision sent all those wearing red into absolute meltdown with Gatland leading the charge.
“It looked like a try to me. Everyone else I’ve spoken to who has seen it (has said) it’s a clear try,” said the Wales coach at the post match media session.
“To me, it’s disappointing that they can get that decision wrong. It’s such a critical moment in the game, such a big decision.”
He then gave Newman some special attention.
“You get a guy over from New Zealand to be the TMO, he has one big call to make and unfortunately he’s made a terrible mistake,” he said.
“At this level that’s pretty disappointing.”
During the game Shane Williams, Wales legend, gives his views in commentary: “The ball’s on the ground, the hand’s on the ground – there is pressure. For me that’s a try.”
Williams is wrong about downward pressure as the rule now says the player must have “control of the ball” and an argument could be made that Anscombe did not have that.
But the red mist was rising on the Twittersphere:
Enjoyed the test match. England deserved to win, just. Don’t know why Wales didn’t take the points when awarded penalties. Bad call by TMO re Anscombe try.— Jonathan Davies OBE (@JiffyRugby) February 10, 2018
Am I wearing red tinted glasses in seeing Anscombe get his hand to that ball first? 👀— Martyn Williams (@martynewilliams) February 10, 2018
No Try— Billy Vunipola (@bvunipola) February 10, 2018
Just finished my piece for @TheRugbyPaper on one heck of a Test match. Amazed the TMO decision went against Gareth Anscombe and you know me I try to be objective. Never seen England under 'Uncle Eddie' so relieved to belt the ball into the crowd.— Peter Jackson (@JackoRugby) February 10, 2018
In the end there was probably only one voice claiming the TMO got it right, England head coach, Eddie Jones.
“I don’t know why people say we’re lucky with the refereeing decision,” said Jones. “The TMO has all the time in the world to make his decision.”
But even he was hedging his bets.
“I never get involved in what is decided,” he finished.
In the end it’s all water under a very high bridge. As the old saying goes: “Look in the paper tomorrow – the result won’t change.” As much as passionate Welsh man may want it to.