'Papa' McLaren inspired us to victory, says Rory Lawson

CAPTAIN Rory Lawson and the Scottish team took inspiration for their shock 21-17 win over South Africa on Saturday from Scotland's most famous uncapped rugby figure, the skipper's late grandfather Bill McLaren.

• Rory Lawson:"The beauty of this week is everyone has worked hard and there has been a real togetherness"

McLaren, the former Scotland trialist, journalist and "voice of rugby" commentator, died in January of this year and there was something fitting in the way his 29-year-old grandson was handed the captain's role in the last Murrayfield Test of 2010, recovering from injury and slipping back into the No 9 jersey with Mike Blair out with concussion, for Saturday's gritty triumph.

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McLaren did not have it easy, battling tuberculosis contracted during a horrendous wartime battle, just missing out on a Scotland cap and losing a daughter to cancer, but he became one of the most respected figures in world rugby. Lawson decided to add to his eve-of-match speech by handing out McLaren's legendary Hawick Ball sweets to team-mates.

"Last week was a knock to everyone's pride," Lawson said after savouring his first Test match as captain. "No coach or player likes to be on the end of a result like last week's, but the beauty of this week is that everyone has worked hard and there has been a real togetherness.

"The key for me was that extra yard, the willingness to work for that extra yard, whether it was beyond the tackle, off the line in defence or to fight for it with the ball. That was the most important thing to me. We all had a Hawick Ball beforehand. Papa always used to say it would give you that extra yard, and maybe it did today."

It was a neat touch from a popular player who has worked incredibly hard for his place at the top table. He came to the pro game at 22, under-studied Blair at Edinburgh for three years with few opportunities to play and left for Gloucester on a relatively paltry salary, with the promise of it being enhanced if he could earn a first-team slot inside a year. He grasped that challenge and has become a central figure in Gloucester's improvement, and having missed the game with the All Blacks due to an injured hand - which was still painful on Saturday and strapped up afterwards - his leadership was a key plank of Saturday's


• Match report: Scotland 21 - 17 South Africa

Typifying the character of the Scotland team, the scrum-half was hesitant and guilty of errors early on, but he continued to talk and exhort those around him and then tightened up to lead a display of energy and tactical nous in the pouring rain that was ultimately too great for the world's No2 ranked nation to overcome.

"The conditions had a massive part to play," Lawson said.

"Ask any scrum-half - when you see the rain coming down, you don't look up and say 'oh great', but you have got to have the flexibility to adapt your game. As the game went on the conditions got worse and worse, and it became a game of trying to get territory and keeping our noses in front."There was an awful lot of determination out there, and that's what dictated the outcome of the game. The urgency, the energy and the hard work from every man, 1 to 22, through the week was really important, and the fans played a big part as well.

"It's fair to say that the forwards got a rocket through the week. They were coming up against one of the best packs in the world after a game in which we were really taught a lesson by the All Blacks, so there was huge motivation. And, fair play to them, they worked incredibly hard today. Obviously, Dan (Parks] knocked over the goals, but so much work was done by the pack; I take my hat off to them."

It is not unfair on Lawson and his squad to suggest that this performance still would not have been good enough to beat New Zealand, but it is inescapable too that the vast majority of Scotland's players have come through much less stringent development and preparation than the Kiwis and Boks. South Africa's new stand-off Patrick Lambie, for example, was part of a South Africa U20 side that thumped Scotland 73-0 in the IRB Junior World Championships in June, so it is highly doubtful that he would be the player he is had his grandparents remained in Scotland and he had come through the Scottish ranks.

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But that highlights this as another triumph for a nation punching above its weight. The players hauled themselves back onto the tracks on Saturday, restored pride and lifted Scottish morale. It takes the record under Robinson to six wins, five defeats and one draw, but impressively, and without precedent inside a year, the names of Australia, Ireland, Argentina and South Africa sit in Scotland's 'W' column.

The tide is turning after what was the worst decade for results in Scottish rugby history, but the same question remains up in the ether: "Is this squad capable of rising from the 'heroic underdog' reputation and becoming consistently good?" Based on the defence shown again on Saturday they can match any side when on form, but still chances were passed up in attack.The final Test against Samoa in Aberdeen, therefore, provides an opportunity to take another step forward.

The coaches say Scotland have to keep opponents to under 20 points to have a chance of victory, prescient words before Saturday, and will acknowledge that common threads through great recent wins over England and those named above are terrific defence, goal-kicking and work-rates, and a touch of good fortune, with just two tries, both of them from forwards.

Changes will be made again this week, with lock Scott MacLeod ruled out of the final Test with a rib injury and prop Allan Jacobsen, who was a 'Man of the Match' contender and is in line for his 50th cap, nursing a shoulder injury that puts him in doubt.

There are still around 5,000 tickets remaining for the Test at Pittodrie (2.30pm ko), priced from 15 for adults and 7.50 for U18s and students, which underlines the work still required to make Scotland a consistently attractive proposition. It is now, however, work very much back in progress, and Mr McLaren can take credit for his own bit of inspirational input.