Laidlaw has revenge over Tonga in mind

Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw. Picture: SNS
Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw. Picture: SNS
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Scotland skipper Greig Laidlaw is urging his team to create a springboard into the Six Nations Championship when they complete the viagogo Autumn Test series by tackling Tonga in a ground-breaking visit to Kilmarnock football club’s Rugby Park ground tomorrow.

Having beaten Argentina and lost narrowly to world champions New Zealand, the Scots are bidding for a two-from-three win ratio for the first time since 2010.

Laidlaw has some revenge on his mind, too.

The scrum-half, whose team open the Six Nations with a visit to France on February 7, said: “We got turned over by Tonga a couple of years ago and that is not something we will let happen again.

“I believe this team has taken a lot of strides forward and can come together for the Six Nations with a lot of confidence.”

What is he looking for in particular?

“That we get the win first and foremost then more of the same. Another solid defensive effort and more good attacking, moving point of contact.”

However, the Gloucester star added: “Tonga are no mugs. Everybody keeps telling me this is the easiest game – tell that to me when you are out there and they are coming at you at 100mph.

“These boys like to come and hit. They are built for rugby.

“We need to look after the ball, play in right area and set ourselves up nicely looking ahead.

“They had a good 2011 World Cup (beating France) and have been building since then. Jake White is now their coach and he has a good reputation.”

In fact, White guided South Africa to a 2007 World Cup triumph while out on the pitch Laidlaw has particular respect for a Gloucester colleague whom he also played alongside at Edinburgh.

“(Hooker) Aleki Lutui is pretty much made of concrete. Seriously, he is the hardest man I’ve come across.

“We have to chop his legs away. If we keep putting them on the deck they will run out of steam before us,” said Laidlaw.

To do that, Scotland will also need to run the Tongans around a football pitch which, compared to the narrow confines of Pittodrie which played into opposition hands in 2012, is six yards longer and a couple wider.

Key could be stand-off Finn Russell of whom Gregor Townsend, his club coach at Glasgow, said: “Six months ago he was only making his debut at Glasgow, but has surpassed all expectations.

“He’s grabbed his opportunity.

“It’s also important to have depth around that position and Duncan Weir is still young. Others will be pushing Finn and Duncan.”

In recent years, Scotland’s rugby team have immediately bounced back from a loss to New Zealand by beating South Africa and France, proving that they learned from playing at the tempo and intensity which makes the Kiwis so renowned.

Townsend, an outstanding Scotland and Lions stand-off, also said on Talksport’s excellent Full Contact programme that he benefited from keeping top company. “I learned so much from playing against the All Blacks (six times)”.

The challenge for Scotland against Tonga in the first rugby international to be played on a plastic pitch is to carry on where they left off against the All Blacks.

“In developing overall momentum this was what they did in microcosm against New Zealand,” said Townsend.

“The players got better and better throughout. Gaining confidence, they realised they had to take on New Zealand in contact areas and carry ball. They found a few holes in the second-half, which led to penalties

“It’s the start of a new journey with a new coach (Vern Cotter) and there is definitely an atmosphere of ambition, confidence, willingness to move the ball.”

The danger now is that Scotland take their foot off the collective pedal, because there is absolutely no doubt another loss to Tonga would be as deflating as 2012, since it would indicate the past fortnight was yet another false dawn.

All this week, players have talked about the importance of backing up their autumn displays – and it is now time to walk the walk.

Only five of the starting line-up against Tonga in 2012 will be on from kick-off tomorrow and one fresh face, centre Alex Dunbar, epitomises the pace that will be required and is in no way reduced by the introduction of Tim Visser – seven tries in 14 Tests – for the injured Sean Maitland.

“Pace is coming more and more into it,” said Dunbar, adding: “Defences are so good you need to stretch them by just having that little spark, that bit of pace to stretch them on an outside break.

“You may not see it in the first phase, but two or three phases later when defences have been stretched you’ll see it.”

As well as Visser, the Scots also retain Sean Lamont in the centre berth where he took over from the injured Mark Bennett, with Geoff Cross and Johnnie Beattie replacing the similarly stricken Euan Murray and Adam Ashe.

TEAMS

Scotland

Stuart Hogg (Glasgow)

Tommy Seymour (Glasgow)

Sean Lamont (Glasgow)

Alex Dunbar (Glasgow)

Tim Visser (Edinburgh)

Finn Russell (Glasgow)

Greig Laidlaw (Gloucester) (c)

Alasdair Dickinson (Edinburgh)

Ross Ford (Edinburgh)

Geoff Cross (London Irish)

Richie Gray (Castres)

Jonny Gray (Glasgow)

Rob Harley (Glasgow)

Blair Cowan (London Irish)

Johnnie Beattie (Castres)

Substitutes: Fraser Brown (Glasgow), Gordon Reid (Glasgow), Ryan 
Grant (Glasgow), Kieran Low (London Irish), Alasdair Strokosch (Perpignan), Chris Cusiter (Sale Sharks), Duncan Weir (Glasgow), Duncan Taylor (Saracens).

Tonga

Vungakoto Lilo

David Halaifonua

Siale Piutau

Hemani Paea

Fetu’u Vainikolo

Latiume Fosita

Sonatane Takulua

Tevita Mailau

Aleki Lutui

Paea Fa’anunu

Tukulua Lokotui

Joe Tu’ineau

Sione Kalamafoni

Nili Latu (c)

Viliami Ma’afu

Substitutes: Elvis Taione, Sione Lea, Sila Puafisi, Lisiate Fa’aoso, Hale T Pole, Tomasi Palu, Kurt Morath, Sione Piukala.