SCOTLAND head coach Vern Cotter and captain Greig Laidlaw basked briefly in the joy of an uplifting 29-18 victory over France at BT Murrayfield before quickly focusing their attention on making it three Six Nations wins in a row in Dublin next weekend – a feat which hasn’t been achieved for 20 years.
Yesterday’s impressive triumph, which sparked a standing ovation from the home crowd five minutes before the end with victory assured, was a breakthrough on a number of fronts. A first home win in the Six Nations in the last eight attempts, a first over France for ten years and the first back-to-back successes, following the 36-20 defeat of Italy in Rome, since 2013.
Tries by man-of-the-match Stuart Hogg, who also landed a monster penalty from just inside his own half, the brilliant Duncan Taylor and predatory Tim Visser, plus 11 points from the boot of Laidlaw on his 50th cap and record-equalling 25th Test as captain, propelled the Scots to a deserved victory, which handed England the title.
The Scots recovered from the early loss of stand-off Finn Russell to a head knock and Cotter was proud of the performance of his players.
“It was a well constructed game by the players. You lose your playmaker in the first five minutes, lose a try with 14 players on the field, then come back and show composure to win the game that’s great and showed a lot of qualities.
“They put the necessary effort in, went to their strengths. So I’m pleased for the players.”
They put the necessary effort in, went to their strengths. So I’m pleased for the playersVERN COTTER
The win was built on the foundations of another excellent forward performance, with tighthead prop WP Nel again inspiring an utterly dominant day in the set scrum and the maul defence showing real improvement.
“The guys didn’t want to go backwards did they?” Cotter noted. “They fought their way through it and found ways to stop it [French maul]. That’s determination, which is great to see on our home track.
“The players will want to take that determination away against Ireland next week. There are no guarantees but I thought that was a sustained effort. There are ebbs and flows in matches but it was that sustained effort which got us through to the end.
“We always talk about total awareness in games and I thought they were aware. When France went to the wide plays we spread our defence wide and made effective tackles. It was great stuff.”
Following superb scores by Hogg and Taylor, who ran in from over 50 metres, in the first half, Laidlaw helped create the clinching try for Visser, assisted by an improvised overhead flick by Hogg, then nailed the penalty that assured victory.
That meant Laidlaw could enjoy the last few minutes knowing victory on his 50th cap was in the bag,
“We knew we had them in the last ten minutes and you can enjoy it a bit more,” said Laidlaw plays his club rugby in England and might have some drinks waiting for him when he gets back in a week or so after helping Eddie Jones’ men to the championship with a game to spare.
“Maybe the boys at Gloucester will buy me a pint, but this was always about us,” said Laidlaw with a smile. “The fact that we’ve done them a favour is out of our hands. I don’t think there are even any Gloucester boys in the team at the minute, so there you go.
“This result was about Scotland, and we’re delighted to get it.”
Scotland will now aim to carry their momentum into Saturday’s finale against Ireland in Dublin. “Three games in a row would be a big achievement,” added Laidlaw. “Especially going away to Ireland – they’re the reigning champions, are a good side and had a big win against Italy [on Saturday].
“They’re probably hurting a little bit with the way they’ve gone so far in the tournament so it’s a big challenge ahead but we’ll recover, prepare for it and put our best foot forward come the game.”
Cotter agreed that the extra day’s rest will benefit the opposition. “Ireland do have an advantage in that they have a day more than us to recover, a day more than us to prepare,” said the coach.
“So we’ll take it as it comes, the first priority is to recover. It was a physical game out there so we’ll see how we front up tomorrow and see what we do – we might only be able to train one day.
“That’s just the way it is.”
France coach Guy Noves, meanwhile, was disappointed that a strong start, which saw Les Bleus open the scoring with an early try, fizzled out and they slumped to a second successive loss in the championship.
“Perhaps the Scottish team has had more time to train together and progress but we were tolerant to let them beat us today,” said Noves.
“The French team started well and were heading for a dynamic game but the mistakes made by our players changed the course.”