Greig Laidlaw switches Scotland’s focus firmly on to France

Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw takes a break from training to look ahead to the Six Nations match against France in Paris. Picture: Paul Devlin/SNS
Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw takes a break from training to look ahead to the Six Nations match against France in Paris. Picture: Paul Devlin/SNS
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Greig Laidlaw said Scotland allowed the warm glow of last Saturday’s rousing opening win over Ireland to drift into Sunday afternoon before the focus made a decisive switch towards France in Paris on Sunday.

The Scots are keen to ensure that the superb 27-22 downing of a confident Ireland is not spoiled by a slip backwards in the French capital and said the squad was aware that facing a hugely physical Les Bleus outfit on their home patch presents a whole new challenge.

“Those are the moments you play the game for, that euphoria and being with your team-mates after the game,” said the skipper, who stroked over the decisive penalties on Saturday after Ireland had roared back to lead 22-21 in the second half.

“But that probably lasted until Sunday afternoon. Then we started turning out attention to France. However delighted we were with the win, it’s only one. We’re focused now on France.

“The workload [at training] was pretty heavy today. There are things to tidy up in our game because, in our analysis, we noticed that we missed a few opportunities.

“In this squad, it’s always about developing our game. The forwards have been working hard on set pieces and, in the backs, we’ve been tightening a few things up. You can always get better.”

France’s match at Twickenham, in which they were unfortunate to lose 19-16 after having the champions on the back foot with some dynamic periods of play, has provided plenty of food for thought in the Scotland camp.

“As of Monday, we started looking at France. That’s the nature of the business, you move straight on to the next job and France are a very dangerous side, very dangerous,” continued Laidlaw.

“They will be disappointed with their recent form, because they haven’t been winning games, but we know how dangerous they can be.

“They’ve got a very powerful forward pack and a couple of dangerous runners out wide, so we need to play really well – and really smart – to get something out of this game.”

He may have ended on the losing side but powerhouse French back-row forward Louis Picamoles was arguably the star performer of the 
opening weekend and Laidlaw, who has encountered him at club level in the Aviva Premiership, is aware that the Northampton player likes
to target the half-back channel with his barnstorming attacks.

“He’s a quality player, as much as he has got power he’s got subtle steps as well, moves away from you,” said Laidlaw. “He caused England a lot of problems at the weekend and we need to deal with him.

“It’s not just his power but it’s his offloading ability as well, he gets them on the front foot.

“You can see why [France coach] Guy Noves has him back in the team, he coached him for a number of years down at Toulouse, that familiarity obviously has a lot to do with why he’s been picked, but there’s other quality player as well within the squad.

“He pretty much created a try out of nothing when we [Gloucester] played at Franklin’s Gardens and they won by four points. He’s a dangerous player and I’ve seen him close up already this season.”

Laidlaw reckons the win over Ireland will bring added respect from the opposition but believes that would already be quite high after Scotland beat France at home in last year’s Six Nations and have come close on their last two visits to the Stade de France.

“Yes, I think we’ve gained a bit of respect from the weekend,” said Laidlaw. “But someone like Guy Noves with his vast coaching experience, he’ll know already not to take us lightly and I don’t think he will.

“It’s the same as always, we need to worry about ourselves and get our stuff right. That’s something we talked about last week ahead of Ireland. We needed to respect Ireland and understand what they were about but we had to get our own stuff right to give ourselves a chance of winning.”

Laidlaw believes the biggest change Scotland take to Paris this time around is a sense of belief that they can hurt teams and a more mature mindset about how to deal with difficult situations.

“In the first half against Ireland we were really skilful and caused them a whole host of problems and managed to build a lead on the scoreboard which was hugely important,” said the captain.

“Where I feel the team has made massive strides is being able to dig ourselves out of a hole after allowing Ireland to come back at us. We managed to get field positions, it’s pleasing to know we can perform in these situations. We understand how we can win games from being behind.

“We need everything we had from the Ireland game and take that forward into the French game. There are things we feel as though we can still improve on. In a tournament like the Six Nations there is no respite, we’ve beaten Ireland and enjoyed it, our feet are back on the ground now and we know what’s required for the task ahead.

“The players are used to changing from week to week in terms of the opposition changing. It will be subtle differences rather than wholesale and you we need to keep doing what we’re doing well.

“That’s keeping your skills high, being aggressive and physical. We did that last Saturday and if we do that this Sunday we will put ourselves in a strong position.”