Six Nations: Greg Laidlaw says fine-tuning is all that’s needed

DEFIANT Greig Laidlaw insisted Scotland will make someone suffer in this RBS Six Nations Championship once the fine tuning of attacking moves and extra attention to making passes stick takes place.

The Scots had overwhelmingly the bulk of pressure and possession in an eventual 13-6 defeat by England to open the competition but Laidlaw insisted: “The worrying thing would be if we never created any chances.”

The Edinburgh half back who came off the bench after 57 minutes at stand off for his third cap, added: “We can’t go into our shells now. It is about putting the chances we are making away. We got over the [gain] line a lot and can take great heart from that.

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“We just need to learn to finish the off the chances we are creating. There is a feeling we can click and score tries. We have the players to do that. We broke the line on numerous occasions With a little bit more depth and bit of time we’ll score tries.”

There were eight Edinburgh players on the field at the end and they have been scoring tries for fun in all tournaments lately but Laidlaw drew a comparison with the international scene, saying: “The difference is this is Scotland’s first game and there was maybe a little bit of rustiness from some of the boys. We lost the ball at crucial times.

“With Edinburgh we are holding on to the ball at crucial times. If we do that with Scotland we will pick up results.

So, the promise of better things to come from a Scotland side who have won their opening Six Nations fixture only once in 13 attempts is within the team, but where Laidlaw was less bullish was in claiming a try after he had kicked ahead and referee George Clancy, with the help of video official Nigel Whitehouse, decided that England scrum half Ben Youngs had beaten him to the touchdown.

Coach Andy Robinson may have remarked afterwards that he had spoken to Laidlaw who assured him he was “relatively confident” he’d scored, and the player’s body language certainly suggested that as he waited for a chance to take the conversion. But, showered and changed, it was a more reflective Laidlaw who said: “I definitely got something on the ball but it was deemed not to be a try.”

Even later Laidlaw was still keeping an open mind as to how much downward pressure Youngs had exerted on the ball by tweeting: “Thought I got hand to the ball first and scored but still not watched it back. Do u ([sic] think it was a try?”

This observer thought Laidlaw’s hand brushed the ball and no more than that but such observations are, of course, academic. What matters more is that one defeat need not be the end of Scotland’s eventual title hopes according to Laidlaw, who expressed optimism ahead of Sunday’s trip to Wales.

He said: “Our forwards did a lot of good work and we never defended badly. We broke the line a lot and one more step forward next week will see us finish try scoring chances.

“It’s the first game of the tournament and we’re still in the mix.”

There was certainly more incisiveness once Laidlaw arrived and he said he’d brought with him instructions to up the tempo. “Generally my game is to speed things up but we needed to be more direct as well and a couple of times we spilled ball when we were about to come up with the goods.

“Having said that, fair play to England who defended very well and shut us down at times. They held out but we probably should have scored as there was continuity perhaps stemming from the Edinburgh influence.”

By comparison with Wales, the Scots have an extra day to recover and prepare not that Laidlaw reads too much into that – in a professional era that type of thing doesn’t come into play, and they will have to find a way of prioritising much needed poise on the ball.

It was noticeable that the three main line-breaks came from forwards Ross Rennie, Richie Gray and Jim Hamilton and on one second-half occasion deep inside the England half the alignment of the Scottish backline was highly suspect.

Another chance was lost by three players over-running the ball carrier and venturing offside and more often than not Murrayfield, from a Scottish perspective, looked not so much a field or dreams as a field of dreamers.

If England impressed as no more than adequate then in one vital respect they appeared to have done their homework – and it proved to be a match-winning ploy centred on stand off Charlie Hodgson.

Wherever possible it seemed Hodgson was lying up on Dan Parks in the knowledge that his opposite number tends to hold the ball out in front of his body and kick from hand extremely flat. This helped provide the astute Hodgson with the opportunity of a clearance charge down for the only try.

It may have been a scrambled effort but it was more than Scotland managed and with Simon Danielli the last man on a try-sheet at home to England there is now guaranteed to be at least a decade between Calcutta Cup touchdowns of a Scottish ilk.

Lack of tries is only one concern, though, and all form lines pointed to Laidlaw being worth a start; we can only wonder how much more justice would have been done to the reams of possession with him around from the outset although Scotland’s fortunes were best summed up when Richie Gray broke only for Al Strokosch, who’d done superbly to be up in support, to prove unable to gather.

The opportunity butchered by Rennie failing to spot Mike Blair on his shoulder surely cost the Edinburgh flanker man-of-the-match honours as he was outstanding in every other respect but failure here was the most basic of elementary errors and again reeked of absent composure. How Scotland could have done with more of the type of handling that saw giant second row Jim Hamilton reach down and pluck a pass off his toes during a late first-half attack in which it seemed continuity and fluency would, finally, prevail.

Alas, strip out the Italy fixture and in the last 11 Six Nations fixtures at Murrayfield the only home try has come from Max Evans against Wales in 2009!

Scotland at least showed some invention at the start with a switched kick off to full back Rory Lamont and this was arguably the best piece of boot-to-ball from Parks who was erratic and inclined to find visiting full back Ben Foden in space.

After an initial let off when a penalty went wide Scotland found themselves trailing to a Owen Farrell penalty in 22 minutes and it took two penalties by Parks in the 25th and 32nd minutes to overturn that lead.

Given the competitiveness of Scotland with Dave Denton rampaging around and new cap Lee Jones always on the lookout for work who would have thought that would have been Scotkand’s final contribution to the scoreboard?

But Hodgson’s try converted by Farrell gave England a lead they were never to surrender and a further penalty ten minutes from time put the final nail in the coffin of a Scotland side who had pledged after much talking to finally “walk the walk”. In fact, they were tripping over their own feet.