Man-of-the-match Greig Laidlaw insisted Scotland fear no-one at BT Murrayfield after getting their Six Nations campaign back on track with a 32-26 win over France yesterday.
The experienced scrum-half made a triumphant return to the starting line-up as he kicked 22 points and produced a superb all-round performance to guide the Scots home in the second half and restore pride after the previous weekend’s drubbing in Wales.
It was Scotland’s fifth successive victory at home in the championship as they recovered from another shaky start to outlast a tiring French team in a tense encounter that swung back and forth.
While the Scots continue to struggle on the road, Laidlaw hailed the recent home record but admitted there would need to be improvements when England come calling in just under two weeks.
Asked if the team felt they could beat any side at home, Laidlaw replied: “Yes we do. That’s shown in our results. We were only beaten in the last calendar year by New Zealand and that was a five-point margin.
“We feel we can beat anybody. I think we’ll have to play better than we did today to beat England, they are a great team.
“The second-half performance was very good. We were clinical and forced a lot of penalties out of France, our penalties came into play. We’ll need to look at the first half. It’s going to have to go up a notch to beat England. They are playing really well at the minute and are on a big run. It’s going to be difficult, but it’s a game if we turn up and play the right rugby we are going to be in it.”
Scotland trailed 20-14 at the break yesterday after a Teddy Thomas brace put the French in control, although the home side responded with converted tries from Sean Maitland and Huw Jones.
The second half was an end-to-end tussle but the longer the game went on, the more Gregor Townsend’s men, expertly guided by Laidlaw, managed to get on top.
The Clermont Auvergne player, who finished the game in his old stand-off position after Finn Russell was withdrawn following another erratic display, was flawless with the boot off the back of a supreme effort by the Scottish pack against their physical opponents to claim a famous and much-needed victory.
“Gregor gave me the head’s up this morning. It was a bit of surprise, I was wondering if there were injuries,” was Laidlaw’s response when asked about that late switch to stand-off. “Thankfully the forwards got on top at the end of the game. I didn’t have to do too much, just distribute and that is credit to the pack.”
A delighted Townsend paid tribute to his vice-captain, who was making his first Scotland start in a year.
“He played well. I think you probably don’t pick up a lot of what Greig does outside of his passing and kicking,” said the head coach. “That’s managing the team. Coming in at points when we’ve conceded tries to help [captain] John [Barclay].
“You could tell that Greig and [joint vice-captain] Ryan Wilson had a bigger influence from how the team responded to errors. He made some really good decisions.
“They put in a huge effort today. If you come out on the wrong side of the scoreboard, it can be very devastating, especially at home. We ground out that win, especially in the last 20 minutes, did enough to get ahead and stay ahead.”
One area of concern is the form of Russell, who again struggled to find touch with penalties and looks to be out of sorts.
“Finn made a few errors and I’m sure he’ll be working hard to make sure that things like kicking penalties to touch, he does them better under pressure,” said Townsend.
“He will be under even more pressure against England, who have a very good defence. He did some very good things today, in attack, but we know he can play much better.”
Barclay said the overriding emotion in the dressing room was “relief” after a week in which Scotland were criticised for a very poor showing in Cardiff.
“There’s a fair bit of relief, actually,” said the flanker. “You would think we’d be bouncing. But the hangover from last week, everyone is so relieved to get a victory against a really good French side. We are pleased to be in the changing room with a victory and have a week off now. Over the last two years, in the closing stages, we’ve been quite accurate. We’ve made the right decisions on the whole. We managed it very well from that aspect.
“Greig brought control and kicked some tough kicks. We haven’t become a dreadful team just because of the Wales game. That’s why we’re relieved. We’re also delighted for the fans who put all that faith in us. That’s for them.”