Ross Ford backs Greig Laidlaw to bounce back

Greig Laidlaw, applauded off the pitch, below, almost put Scotland ahead against the Kiwis late on, but his penalty went wide
Greig Laidlaw, applauded off the pitch, below, almost put Scotland ahead against the Kiwis late on, but his penalty went wide
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Ross Ford has tipped Greig Laidlaw to immediately bounce back from the penalty-kick miss that would have given Scotland a two point lead going into the last ten minutes of Saturday’s viagogo Autumn Test with New Zealand that ultimately ended in a 16-24 defeat.

Had the penalty succeeded, there is absolutely no guarantee the Scots would have gone on to break their duck in meetings with the All Blacks, but, inevitably, the kick is now in folklore alongside the drop goal attempt by Gregor Sharp which went inches wide in the 0-0 draw of 1964 and Peter Dods’ last gasp conversion in a similar stalemate two decades later.

So, coming close is not unique, and Ford was keen to stress that other factors ultimately separated the teams.

“Greig has won numerous games before and he will still do it in the future,” said Ford. “That’s sometimes how it goes. As a team we had opportunities away from there to do damage.

“I didn’t have an angle, but by the sound of the crowd, who were brilliant in getting behind us, they were willing that kick over. Greig is a phenomenal kicker and it is not often he misses one. It is part of rugby. Everybody does it (there’s) no need to get carried away,

“[There’s] plenty in our game we need to get sorted away from what is part and parcel of rugby.”

Indeed there are few more sage observers of the Scottish game than John Roxburgh, initial director of rugby now retired who, in recalling a World Cup semi-final mis-fire by a Mr Hastings, used social media to sum up perfectly, writing: “Oh dear, Greig. Reminiscent of Gav in 1991!!! Could NZ have conjured up a score had your kick gone over? We’ll never know, but you and your team deserve great credit for the performance and the marker you have put down and must maintain to make Murrayfield a fortress. Well done.”

Insisting “it’s not all doom and gloom”, Ford also said: “I’m feeling pretty much every emotion. We stuck with them for 80 minutes of the game toe to toe and I’m proud of everybody involved – the squad and backroom team for the work they put in.

“We’re not far away. It’s just small things when playing at that standard you don’t get away with it

“Against Argentina we scored loads of tries. Against New Zealand we put them under real pressure and forced them to make errors We played attacking rugby, backed ourselves and a lot of the time it came off.

“They were under pressure and it is credit to the New Zealand team and the way they play that they can always back themselves until the last minute. On numerous occasions they’ve snatched victories.

“But it was pleasing to have them under pressure in attack, defend well ourselves and keep the ball quite well at times.

“The positives are the way we kept the ball and looked to play deep in our own half which was something teams don’t always expect.

“We played what was in front of us and had a go. Sometimes it came off, sometimes it didn’t.

“To do that for 80 minutes was good; at least we are making teams make decisions.”

That included making the Kiwi management, who had opted to rotate their squad, send on notable replacements including Liam Messam, Sonny-Bill Williams and Julian Savea, who had previously scored 29 tries in 31 Tests but was kept well in check.

What New Zealand couldn’t conjure up a panacea for was a Scottish line-out force, who helped themselves to four of their throws while maintaining its own 100 per cent record.

“It was very pleasing to get free ball like that,” said hooker Ford, who provided insight to a bizarre opening scrum where it was almost as unusual to see the ball sit motionless in the tunnel with neither side able to hook as it was to see a scrum half penalised for a crooked feed – one of several questionable decisions by referee Romain Poite.

Ford said of the scrum impasse: “The first scrum was a long scrum. It was a very low scrum. I was not quite in a position to heel back with my head and if I had been I’d have tried it. The ball was just out of reach and rather than bring the scrum up I thought I’d just keep it down (until there was a re-set).”

Scrummaging wasn’t the best aspect of this Scotland display, but it speaks volumes for their resilience that despite giving away more than two stones to his opposite number, Ally Dickinson remained a potent force in the game.”

If coach Vern Cotter decides against rotating or experimenting, Scotland should go in en masse against Tonga next week, apart from centre Mark Bennett, who picked up a hamstring injury.

That would be only fair, while addressing one or two flaws that undermined the overall display, and so far as Ford is concerned there is unfinished business with Tonga, who claimed a Scottish scalp on their last visit two years ago.

“We were disappointed to lose to Tonga the last time we played them, but if we can play at the standard we have set ourselves, we can put ourselves in a good position.

“Tonga are a very aggressive team, unpredictable at times, so we have to be switched on.”

In fact, Tonga travel on the back of a victory against the USA and the sort of errors that must be eliminated include knock-ons by Tommy Seymour, Adam Ashe, Stuart Hogg and Jonny Gray.

It might seem nit-picking set against general form, but some of these blunders appeared to be caused by lack of concentration based on planning the next move before an elementary task was completed.

That said, Hogg looked particularly harshly treated on one occasion and when it came to knock-ons, there was a blatant fumble by Richie McCaw that was overlooked by Poite in the lead up to the opening try by the Kiwis’ Victor Vito.

Five minutes later Scotland had hit back with a Tommy Seymour intercept converted by Laidlaw for a 7-5 lead that lasted until Dan Carter struck successive penalties. Back came Scotland with another Laidlaw penalty before Carter stretched the All Blacks’ interval lead to 14-10. A penalty trade between Laidlaw (2) and Colin Slade kept the scoreboard moving and then came the former’s only miss of the afternoon as a prelude to the All Blacks going more than a score ahead through a Jeremy Thrush try converted by Slade with six minutes remaining.

Glorious failure for Scotland, maybe, but when it is considered No.8 Adam Ashe, who has now started more games for his country (3) than for Glasgow (2), emerged as a star of the show – if not quite in the same firmament as Rob Harley and Jonny Gray on latest showings – then the future does suddenly appear exceedingly bright under coach Cotter, who is attracting attention in his native homeland.

Speaking at a lunch in Edinburgh on Friday a high ranking New Zealand official went as far as to say if anything untoward were to befall Steve Hansen, then expect an enquiry at BT Murrayfield as to Cotter’s availability. Some 67,000 fans on a gripping, engrossing Saturday evening got a glimpse of exactly why that would be.

Scorers:

Scotland: Try – Seymour. Conversion – Laidlaw. Penalties – Laidlaw (3).

New Zealand: Tries – Vito, Thrush. Conversion – Slade. Penalties – Slade, Carter (3).

Scotland: Stuart Hogg; Sean Maitland, Mark Bennett, Alex Dunbar, Tommy Seymour; Finn Russell (all Glasgow Warriors), Greig Laidlaw (Gloucester), captain; Alasdair Dickinson, Ross Ford (both Edinburgh), Euan Murray (Glasgow Warriors), Richie Gray (Castres), Jonny Gray, Robert Harley (both Glasgow Warriors), Adam Ashe (Glasgow Warriors), Blair Cowan (London Irish). Substitutes: Fraser Brown (Glasgow Warriors) for Ford (74mins), Gordon Reid (Glasgow Warriors) for Dickinson (77 mins), Geoff Cross (London Irish) for Murray (30 mins), David Denton (Edinburgh) for Cowan (72mins), Johnnie Beattie (Castres) for Ashe (57 mins), Chris Cusiter (Sale Sharks) for Laidlaw (74 mins), Duncan Weir (Glasgow Warriors) for Russell (25-31 mins then 60 miins), Sean Lamont (Glasgow Warriors) for Bennett (13 mins).

New Zealand: Ben Smith; Colin Slade, Fekitoa Malakai, Ryan Crotty, Charles Piutau; Dan Carter, T J Perenara; Joe Moody, James Parsons, Charlie Faumuina, Jeremy Thrush, Dominic Bird, Richie McCaw (captain), Victor Vito, Sam Cane. Substitutes: Dane Coles for Parsons (46 mins), Wyatt Crockett for Moody (51 mins), Ben Franks for Faumuina (55 mins), Luke Romano for Bird (51 mins), Liam Messam for Vito (37 mins), Augustine Pulu for Perenara (78 mins), Sonny Bill Williams for Malakai (55 mins), Julian Savea for Carter (55 mins).

Referee: Romain Poite (France)