VERN Cotter has some tough decisions to make before finalising his team to take on the All Blacks but it is safe to assume that asking Greig Laidlaw to lead the team again wasn’t amongst them.
The little man kicked fourteen points, created two tries and was at the heart of everything good that Scotland did in that first slick 60 minutes of the 41-31 win over Argentina.
Laidlaw was a revelation in the way that he moved the ball quickly from the breakdown and posed a threat himself with ball in hand. Pity the poor Argentines who could have done all the research in the world on the opposition No 9 and still not uncovered any video evidence of Laidlaw, who did a very passable impersonation of Uncle Roy, breaking as he did.
The scrum-half made his debut off the bench against the All Blacks four years ago at Murrayfield and it was memorable evening, although mostly for the wrong reasons. The Blacks cut loose that night, finishing with seven tries. The next time he faced them two years later the illustrious visitors managed just the six… progress of sorts, then.
“I was on the bench that day and Mike Blair got a head knock after about 35 minutes,” Laidlaw said of that 2010 match. “I was chucked on and, needless to say, we were a few points down by that point. It was a tough start. It was my first cap so I will never forget the game but, in the same breath, we took a bit of a thumping. A couple of years later we were on the end of a good All Blacks performance so it is going to be a tough ask this weekend. But we are confident because of the way we played for large parts of the game at the weekend. We are looking forward to the challenge.”
After shipping thirteen tries in the last two games against New Zealand, the men in blue could be forgiven for manning the barricades, slowing the game and praying for rain in an effort to keep the score respectable. They intend to do nothing of the sort if you listen to their skipper.
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“It is a balance of stopping them and playing a bit of rugby ourselves. Clearly, if we have leaked thirteen tries in the two games, we have to try to drastically reduce that number if we are going to come anywhere near them.
“They are a great attacking side and have been for a number of years now. They have set standards and are the best team in the world for a reason. We need to go out there and try to impose some of our game on them. Keep the ball when we can, run the ball at them and try to make them defend for large periods of the game.”
Much has been made of the high-tempo game that Scotland produced against the Pumas and, sure enough, it harks back to an era when the nation tasted success at the game, if only on occasion. Coach Vern Cotter famously picked the brains of several Scottish legends who pretty much confirmed his own thinking on the subject.
Scotland will never be the biggest, so we need to play at pace and utilise the old expression first coined by Ian
McGeechan of “organised chaos”. Chaos doesn’t come easily, especially against a team as disciplined as the All Blacks, so it was good to hear Laidlaw use two words which were rarely aired under Scott Johnson’s brief and unsuccessful interregnum – “pride and passion”.
On their own they are as useful as a soup ladle in a knife fight but, layered on top of skills, smart-decision making, good execution and all the other basics of the game, they are twin tools that can make all the difference in a tight match. The Scots need to bring every weapon in their arsenal on Saturday if they are to make a dent in the All Blacks’ defence.
“We need to stay in the game for 20 minutes, 40 minutes, 60 minutes and feel our way through the game,” said Laidlaw of the fact that recent matches against New Zealand have been over by half-time. “We need to play with ball in hand as much as we can. If we have the ball it is easier to play the game rather than us trying to chase it down and defending. You get a lot more tired defending, especially the way they play as they have good width and make it hard for you to defend.
“It is going to be a difficult challenge but we need to play with confidence and back each other. We need to go out there and play with pride and passion. We have got to play for one another and really give it a shot. That is the focus for this week. You know, we aren’t going to die wondering. We are going to chuck the ball about when it is on, tighten up when we have to. We are not going to play Barbarians style rugby. We are going to try to play the Scottish way and see how the game pans out.”
It’s been fashionable to ape others for so long that we have almost forgotten what the “Scottish way” of playing looks like – so Laidlaw reminds us.
“It’s about grit and determination first and foremost and getting stuck in. If you do that and set your stall out you give yourself a good backboard to work off.”
New Zealand will win Saturday’s match but, if the Scots return to their roots, the All Blacks will at least know they have been in a Test.
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