SCOTLAND will throw everything they have into their final Six Nations match against Ireland on Saturday – a match they believe they can win despite having lost their four previous matches, according to Greig Laidlaw.
The Irish had their hopes of a Grand Slam ended by defeat in Cardiff hours before the Scots lost 25-13 to England on Saturday, but they can still win the Championship. On the presumption that England will beat France and that Wales will defeat Italy, Ireland may need to go for a big win at Murrayfield to secure the title on points differential.
But Laidlaw insisted that Scotland are not merely going to make up the numbers on the final day, and that they believe they can win provided they put in the kind of complete performance which has eluded them thus far. “We have a massive challenge at home, and we’re desperate to win the game,” the scrum-half and captain said.
“We will be chucking everything at that game. We will stick together this week, look at the videos, do our recovery and stay together as coaches and players. We will put together a plan and then go and execute it. We will be desperate to win by Saturday. We believe in what we’re about. We believe we can win at home. If we get our part right and are true to ourselves as players and coaches we will be in a position to be in the game.”
After five minutes of the match at Twickenham on Saturday Scotland seemed to be in a position to do nothing but sustain an embarrassingly heavy defeat. But they responded well after England got off to a flying start, and both Laidlaw and head coach Vern Cotter said the way they had fought back to lead at half-time could inspire them as they look ahead to the challenge of Ireland.
“It wasn’t how we planned to start, that’s for sure,” Laidlaw said. “England came flying out the blocks, but once it’s happened you just need to deal with it. I thought the response we got was measured, calm and controlled. That was the most pleasing thing. We played magnificent rugby from there until half-time.
“We just got stuck in our half a bit in the second half. A couple of times there was a bounce of the ball, a contestable kick, and we made a mess of it. If we had picked that up we could have started playing in their half, hold the ball, get a couple of penalties.
“The game just went away from us a little bit. It’s hugely frustrating. As players we’re absolutely gutted with another defeat. But we are far from being dominated – we really feel that as players.
“Speaking to some of the Welsh guys, the feedback was that we are night and day from where we were. We believe that as well and it’s just about developing that last bit of confidence to keep playing. We should know when to offload and when to hold the ball. A couple of times when we did get into their half we put little kicks through when we should have held the ball and gone through more phases.”
Asked where his team would find the confidence to take on Ireland after losing their first four games, Cotter said it lay in the best aspects of their performance against England. “It comes from the first half when we were 13-10 up at half-time,” he said. “And loads of the second half. We have to make sure we know what to do to stay in front against those teams and be honest with ourselves.
“We have players coming back in. We have to keep developing those things that are working normally. That’s part of the game. You keep developing the things that keep working well.
“We take [this result] on the chin, but I think there is improvement. We just have to keep working that way, analysing and shifting forward. I thought there was a massive shift in our game for us.
“We need to keep moving. We have Ireland next week and they beat England so it will be really tough for us. If we can repeat and develop parts of our game that we did well under pressure we will start believing that [victory is possible]. I am encouraged; I really am. Frustrated we haven’t got the win, but we’re working towards it.
“If I thought we were being dominated from start to finish I might worry, but I don’t think we are. There’s more to come from this team.
“The guys ain’t happy losing. They know what they want. We know why we are here. There are good things. We took the game to England – they’re a very good side. We have to keep believing and developing.”
Cotter was also encouraged by other aspects of the match in which he found improvements from previous Six Nations outings, among them a degree of tactical versatility which had been lacking in some previous matches. “What did I see from the team? I saw great character.
“We kicked for the first part of the game then played the second part when we got field position. That type of ability to change tactics is a great thing as the opposition don’t know what you’re doing. I thought our lineout defence was very good. I thought we improved there. I thought our scrum, after the first one, was very good. We had them under pressure.
“Those simple things, and doing them well creates confidence. But as we know we have to be at our best all the time. It’s just getting used to setting those standards. And I believe it is coming.”
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