Edinburgh (AFP) – Six second-half penalties by Greig Laidlaw earned Scotland a hard-fought 32-26 victory against France, kick-starting their Six Nations campaign after their crushing 34-7 loss to Wales in Cardiff.
Celebrating his restoration to Scotland’s starting line-up for the first time in 12 months, the 32-year-old scrum-half — who plays his club-rugby in France for Clermont -– also weighed in with two first-half conversions for a personal tally of 22 points.
“I’m proud of the whole team,” said Laidlaw. “I thought our forward pack were outstanding.”
Thanks to two first-half tries by winger Teddy Thomas, France led until Laidlaw’s fourth penalty success squared the match at 26-26 in the 64th minute.
Two further three-pointers from Laidlaw, after being switched to the stand-off role, stretched Les Bleus’ win-less run to an eighth match.
And France captain Guilhem Guirado pointed to his side’s penalty count as reason another defeat following last week’s 15-13 defeat by Ireland.
“It’s worse than last week. As long as we don’t have any discipline we won’t be able to win any matches,” he moaned.
Scotland were caught cold after two minutes, Racing 92 winger Thomas ghosting past stand-off Finn Russell on the home 10-metre line and cutting inside on a diagonal run that took him past the despairing Stuart Hogg en route to a carbon copy of his late score against Ireland last week.
Maxime Machenaud’s conversion left Scotland 7-0 down and the Racing scrum-half stretched the lead to 10-0 with a ninth minute penalty.
– ‘Much better’ –
Scotland coach Gergor Townsend praised France’s first half showing.
“We were much better this week. France are a very good side and some of the rugby they played in the first-half was world class,” he said.
Scotland hit back after 12 minutes, locks Jonny Gray and Grant Gilchrist setting up a drive on the left that ended with Russell floating a scoring pass for winger Sean Maitland.
Greig Laidlaw’s touchline conversion reduced the deficit to 10-7 but, having worked so hard to get themselves back into the contest, Scotland found themselves undone by a piece of opportunism by Thomas.
With 26 minutes on the clock, the flying wing took a feed from full-back Geoffrey Palis and chipped the ball into the Scotland in-goal area. The bounce of the ball eluded the covering Laidlaw and Thomas had his second try, Machenaud’s conversion furnishing the visitors with a 17-7 cushion.
Once again, Scotland struck back, Glasgow centre Huw Jones taking a crash ball feed from Laidlaw to plunder his eighth try in 13 internationals. Laidlaw’s conversion cut the gap to 17-14, though a second Machenaud penalty gave France a 20-14 lead with the final kick of the first-half.
France’s scrum-half and goalkicker was replaced at the interval by Baptiste Serin and three minutes after the resumption the lead was down to 20-17, courtesy of a Laidlaw penalty.
The second-half settled into a penalty contest, Serin landing two and Laidlaw a further two to leave the score 26-23 to France going into the final quarter.
Laidlaw followed up with a fourth penalty success, squaring the match at 26-26 after 64 minutes.
It was then that Townsend rolled the dice, withdrawing Russell, switching Laidlaw to stand-off and bringing on Ali Price at scrum-half.
It proved to be a master-stroke, providing the Scots with the momentum that took them into the lead for the first time with Laidlaw’s fifth penalty ten minutes from time.
For good measure, Laidlaw nailed a sixth penalty after 76 minutes, easing the heartache of defeat in Cardiff and raising Scottish spirits for the visit of England on February 24.
At least France were spared the injury-time despair they suffered with their last gasp defeat courtesy of Jonny Sexton’s long-range drop goal on the opening weekend.
Next up for Jacques Brunel’s side will be a Marseille encounter with his former charges, Italy, on February 23.