A win against the odds

laidlaw

A win against the odds

This Friday night Scottish Rugby will screen Scotland’s 2017 Six Nations win over Ireland at BT Murrayfield ‘as live’.

The match took the lion’s share of votes (45%) in a straight shoot-out with the 2016 win over France and the 2017 win over Wales.

The full game will be shown on the Scottish Rugby Facebook page and YouTube channel at 7pm BST.

At the centre of the win that day, in many respects, was former captain and scrum-half Greig Laidlaw and not least because of the characteristically raw emotion captured so wonderfully on the BBC’s broadcast of the game as the win was secured.

As the ball sailed through the sticks the captain turned to face the crowd with arms aloft before beating his chest like a man possessed in an iconic moment that summed up the achievement of the individual, the team, and the emotion in the crowd who, together, celebrated a momentous win.

“That’s the great thing and the privileged opportunity you get when you’re playing in that jersey and the elation of winning with the players round about you,” explained Laidlaw looking back.

“Sometimes it feels like you’re literally playing for that 10 seconds of euphoria that comes if you win a Test match straight after the whistle.”

The match itself was of great significance to the home side.

Scotland had won just once in the opening round the World’s Greatest Championship since five nations became six (2000).

The Scots had a decent tournament the year prior, enjoyed a two-Test double win over Japan on the summer tour before winning two from three in the autumn, which included a painful one-point loss to Australia a year on from the Rugby World Cup 2015 quarter-final defeat (22-23).

Wins over Argentina and Georgia kept Scotland in credit but they were coming up against an Ireland side operating at the peak of their powers, having defeated Australia, South Africa and New Zealand – ending a 111 year hoodoo against the latter – all in the same year.

“They were being touted as one of the best teams in the world at the time and rightly so because they were in a rich run of form,” said Laidlaw.

“You know every time you play Ireland it’s a tough Test and, remembering back now, I think we put a lot of emphasis on that first game and the fact that Scotland hadn’t, historically, started well in the tournament.

“If we wanted to start challenging for the trophy then we’d have to win these early games, so there was a massive emphasis on that, as well as it being against Ireland who were on great form.”

The first-half saw Scotland’s scrum under immense pressure, with a then a 21-year-old tighthead Zander Fagerson cautioned after just 20 minutes on his fifth cap.

However the national team’s growing strength as a game-breaking, counter attacking threat was evident as they channelled their pressure through speed and width, and racked up three superb scores – two from the talismanic Stuart Hogg [on his way to a second successive player of the championship gong] and one from centre Alex Dunbar – the beneficiary of a cute lineout innovation that parted the packs and presented the line.

“I certainly remember Hogg’s show-and-go against Rob Kearney [the Ireland full-back],” added Laidlaw.

“I think at that time, coming in off the back of a decent autumn, the boys were playing with a lot of confidence.

“When boys are like that it’s awesome. You just want to get the ball into players like Hoggy’s hands and let him do his stuff because he’s world class and was causing a lot of damage that season, and was able to do that with a couple of tries.

“The Dunbar try just shows what happens if you chuck a couple backs into a lineout to help the forwards out!”

A scintillating first-half of rugby saw Scotland return to the dressing room 21-8 to the good, with Laidlaw’s flawless kicking wringing every extra available from the tee.

Naturally, the feelgood factor from the first 40 was right up there.

“It was awesome because we felt in control of the Test match, which is always a nice feeling and that’s never always going to be the way in Six Nations matches.

“With that, as a captain and a leader, you start to maybe stress a little bit about what the boys are thinking about, if the job is done for instance.

“Certainly, against teams like Ireland, the game is never won until it’s won, so it’s about being positive at half-time but very much about keeping doing what you’re doing and try to do it even better.”

The second-half was a wholly different story as Ireland mounted a massive fight-back, their stranglehold evident in the 70% possession enjoyed after the interval, which ultimately told as Iain Henderson and Paddy Jackson crossed the line for the men in green.

The momentum was well and truly with the visitors and – twenty minutes, two tries and two conversions later – they were in the lead for the first time in the match (21-22).

The contrast between the Scottish mood at half-time to the one under the posts as the second conversion snatched their lead was stark, however Laidlaw is more measured in his assessment and memory of the moment.

“When you’re experienced, you’re aware there’s always ebbs and flows against top opposition. They will always have time in the game and a period of putting you under pressure.

“It’s about how you withstand that and hold the lead.

“They were having to expend huge amounts of energy to get back in the game and I think, at the point they took the lead, it was about taking a big breath, getting back to what we were doing and getting our noses back in front.

“Credit to the boys on the day that’s what happened.”

Then came another big swing of momentum, intent and pressure as cool heads amidst a Scottish second wind saw the hosts work their way back into the Irish half and earn a critical penalty, giving Laidlaw the chance to kick his side back into the lead.

The team had created the opportunity but it was down to the skipper to make it count, knowing full well of its significance with eight minutes left on the clock in this enthralling encounter.

“You’re a human being so when you get that opportunity things are going through your head about ‘if you kick this we’re back in front,” explained Laidlaw.

“It’s a tough one but you need to block everything else out: block out the score line, block out the possibility of taking the lead and simply go through the process of your kicking routine.

“If you get caught up in the moment then you’re probably going to miss the kick, so it very much comes back to your mental strength and giving yourself every opportunity to be successful with that kick.”

The kick is good and Scotland take a slender two-point lead into the dying moments of the match. They continue to battle and earn another penalty in Laidlaw’s range.

The clock ticks into the red – in no small part to the skipper’s ‘deliberations’ on whether to kick or go for touch, and then where to place the ball – meaning the game was all but won.

The circumstance is therefore wildly different from that which came moments before.

Kick the goal and the match is won, hoof it anywhere into the stands, even, and the match is won.

“Essentially all I’m thinking is ‘do not hit the post’ because that’s the only way really that the game can continue,” he added.

“It’s a funny one because you want to kick goals over and have them be successful but sometimes balls do come off the post.

“So, I thought to myself I’d just stick to my routine and back myself to kick it over. Thankfully for myself and the boys it stayed true and that one sailed over.

“As soon as I kicked the ball and lifted my head I knew it was going over and that initial reaction you see is joy and happiness.

“Then when I bang my chest a couple of times that’s probably the relief coming out, and then you get to enjoy the moment.

“That was always my best time, was that moment.

“All that emption would come out – the relief, the happiness and the joy – that the boys have worked hard for all week and have come away with a good win.”

Watch Scotland v Ireland from February 2017 on the Scottish Rugby Facebook page or YouTube channel this Friday at 7pm GMT.

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