DESPITE earning 41 international caps in a career that started way back in 2005, Scott Lawson has still only started 13 Tests. . . unlucky for Italy.
He has been behind Ross Ford, a British and Irish Lions Test player in 2009, for much of that time. He must have been feeling a little unloved, overlooked, something of a wall flower at a fancy dance, but the Biggar little man is currently enjoying the last laugh.
The point is that he is a hooker, born and bred to the task. He emerged when hookers had to hook and now that the skill is back in demand, so is he. But in truth it is his other skill that has made the biggest difference to this Scotland side. Ahead of the Rome match the Scots had lost five line-outs in each of the opening two tests. In Rome the Scots enjoyed perfect 100 per cent success at the sidelines. Instead of a litany of excuses, the coulda, woulda, shoulda mumble, the Scots were able to build pressure when inside the Italian half and relieve it when throwing inside their own 22. Lawson’s arrows found their mark every time.
“It wasn’t about that really, I can genuinely say that,” says the animated little man who speaks at the same high tempo that he brings to the game. “It was about us getting the win. We’ll not shy away from the fact that our line-out performance over the last couple of weeks has not been good. Obviously myself coming in, I felt like I was brought in to do a job and I did that. That’s the way I feel about it.
“I was happy. I was delighted. Not only that I think from a personal point of view the line-out was stronger than the scrum in the first half it didn’t affect the team performance, we rode the storm, we weren’t the better team in the first half, there is no doubt about that, but it was still a 3-3, 6-3 type of game until that last five minutes and we showed a lot of resilience to come out in that second half and be the better team.
“Ultimately we scored and took the lead. I don’t know if it was a concentration thing because the momentum was with us all the way, but we gave away a cheap score (Josh Furno’s try), almost let them straight back in it but we went through the systems and through the patterns and, ultimately, we got the win. I personally believe that we deserved it on the performance we put in in that second half.”
There was always the danger that replacing the bulkier Ford with the relatively diminutive form of Lawson might undermine the set scrum and it certainly looked that way in a difficult first half which the Italians dominated thanks, in part, to several scrum penalties.
Geoff Cross replaced Moray Low just before the break and things improved to such an extent that coach Scott Johnson was pondering why Scotland had not won one or two scrum penalties of their own in the final quarter.
“I think it’s about figuring him (the referee) out. I think he (referee, Steve Walsh) got a perception straight away and, its not my place to say, we took Moray off and brought Geoff on.
“Once the ref gets an opinion of someone its very hard to change so I think it was no reflection on Moray. The scrum has been good the first couple of games, he’s done well, but Steve (Walsh) took a dislike to what he was doing and it was very, very hard on Moray. He’s going to be hurting and I’ve been there as well, but it was the right thing to do for the team. He will take it on the chin and he’ll come back stronger for it. Geoff came on and sometimes a different face makes a difference.”
The lines between success and failure have rarely been finer than in Saturday’s test, but the difference that a win makes to the confidence and demeanour of this Scotland squad can hardly be overstated. After two weeks when they have received brick bats from pretty much everyone with a platform from which to throw them, the Scots have earned some redemption.
“Huge, I think,” says Lawson when asked what difference the win would make. “For 79 and a half mins the boys put in exactly the same performance, exactly the same effort, exactly the same resolve and you put a loss in that column instead of a “W” and it deflates everything, the pressure comes back on now. We did exactly the same thing for 80 mins but ultimately we backed ourselves to the hilt and yeah, we’ll take confidence from that.
“Ultimately, it’s about winning. It’s about performing but it’s also about winning. We’ll take that on to France. We keep reiterating that we haven’t done ourselves justice in the first couple of weeks, I think we have lost a couple of games at the start of the championship before but I think it was the manner in which we did so, but I think the manner of our performance on Saturday was much better and we’ll look forward to France. I can guarantee that.”