Captain Greig Laidlaw embraced the feelgood factor surrounding Scottish rugby at present but warned that it will all be for nought if the team can’t use it to propel them to wins in the upcoming Six Nations.
The Scots open this year’s tournament against Ireland at BT Murrayfield on Saturday afternoon with a sense of optimism in the air that hasn’t existed for some years. A successful autumn Test series has been followed by progress in Europe by both Glasgow and Edinburgh and Laidlaw admitted that the energy in the camp was positive.
“There is more about the group [than previous years] that is for sure,” said the Gloucester scrum-half.
“We feel we are further down the track but the proof will be in the results. We have always been battling uphill after a poor start and we can’t let that happen this time.”
The 56-times capped 31-year-old is well aware that Scotland have not won the opening match of the tournament in 11 years and said that work was being done to ensure they can avoid being shoved on the back foot from the get-go this time around.
“We’ve looked at a few things in and around the start of the game. I won’t be giving much away but we need to keep our error count to a minimum,” continued Laidlaw. “I mentioned that we let Ireland off to a good start in the fixture there [in Dublin] last year and, while we did claw ourselves back into the game, it was too little too late and we ran out of steam, so it’s hugely important that we start well and we’re in the game certainly in the first half.
“We are working hard to put everything into this first performance as we know how important it is. It is vital to get off to a good start, especially when playing at home.”
Laidlaw admitted that the aerial game would be a key facet on Saturday. “Yes, we’ve spent a lot of time on that,” he said.
“It’s an individual skill so the boys have been hammering into it at the beginning and at the end of sessions. It’s a key area in the game. We looked at the game over there last year and we certainly lost that battle.
“We looked at Glasgow- Munster a few weeks ago and Munster won a lot of ball back in the air, so it’s a big part of the game and we need to win our fair share of balls back.”
While Scotland celebrated wins over Argentina and Georgia in the autumn, Ireland took the more impressive scalps of New Zealand and Australia, which has the men in green odds-on favourites with the bookmakers.
“We have watched both their games against the All Blacks [a 40-29 win in Chicago and 21-9 loss in Dublin],” said Laidlaw. “They were interesting and there was a clear difference why Ireland won the first game, because New Zealand’s error count was so high.
“They made a lot of mistakes in the game, missed a lot of lineouts and didn’t give themselves a platform to launch attacks into the game.
“The key difference in the second match was they reduced their error count and were more aggressive in defence. Those were what we feel were the two main differences. We can take some learning out of that.”
Ireland may have lost their first-choice playmaker Johnny Sexton to injury but Scotland have theirs in the form of his life, and Laidlaw can’t wait to team up with Finn Russell at half-back again and hopefully help the gallus Glasgow Warrior shine on the big stage. “I think he brings the best out of a lot of players around him, he certainly does with me, I enjoy training with him,” the skipper said of Russell.
“It’s brilliant to see a Scottish playmaker enjoying his rugby and having a bit of swagger. He’s not cocky, he’s just confident in his ability within himself. That’s hugely important for this group of players because he can drag everybody up.”
Laidlaw is relishing his own head-to-head with opposite number Conor Murray and brushed aside the recent controversy surrounding the Munster scrum-half’s complaints about how Glasgow targeted his standing leg while kicking in the recent European match.
“Glasgow did everything within the rules of the game. They are not trying to deliberately injure a player,” said Laidlaw. “We will be putting pressure on him, sure we will. He is not going to come to Murrayfield and get an armchair ride.
“I think he’s a brilliant player, he’s probably one of the best half-backs in the world. He’s really developed his game over the years. He’s got a strong kicking game, strong runner, a big bloke for a 9. He’s a good player and a good temperament on the whole. He’s one of the linchpins for Ireland and for Munster over the last few years.”