Scott Lawson believes Scotland live to successfully fight another day in this Six Nations Championship.
At times during a 17-19 defeat by France at Murrayfield on Saturday, the Scots seemed to be battling the demons of recent failures – as much as the opposition – in seemingly trying to defend rather than extend a lead down the home straight before Jean-Marc Doussain settled matters with a last-gasp penalty.
But, with reassurance that they can still be competitive, hooker Lawson says the self belief engendered can be carried forward to Wales on Saturday.
Had Scotland quickly fallen out of contention in the game, then weeks and even months of soul searching would inevitably have followed.
Instead Lawson felt entitled to say: “This was the ultimate one that got away.
“It was disappointing because with the control, territory, the amount of ball we had, things could have been different. We brought a lot of positives, but there was a 14-point swing when we were attacking at a time when we were in charge of the game and – fair play to their winger – he read an intercept to score at the other end. That is just the way it sometimes goes, although well beyond that (45 minute) point we still felt in control.
“We were always in shape and showed we can do it. I don’t want to keep saying we are learning, but we have to acquire ways of killing a game to our advantage from the position we got ourselves in.”
In fact, Scotland had possession inside the French half with four minutes remaining and leading by a point only for the visitors to escape upfield for the winning penalty given against substitute second row Tim Swinson for allegedly failing to roll away from a tackle.
It was one of several contentious decisions by the New Zealand referee, but with the penalty count 13-6 in favour of France, it was always going to be an uphill struggle.
“There was a lot to be pleased about – and a lot to work on as well,” added Lawson. We made France look good at times by our actions, but we also made them look quite ordinary as well.
“We beat Italy who ran Wales close, so we’ll go there and give it our best shot. We live to fight another day – just!”
One area Lawson acknowledges must be quickly fixed is the capacity for getting on the wrong side of referees.
“Johnno [coach Scott Johnson] talked about not allowing them to have points to stay in game, but not only was there indiscipline they kicked their penalties early on which was disappointing as well.”
On the positive side Scotland did manage tries by Stuart Hogg and Tommy Seymour.
Lawson said: “We talked about their unstructured approach and how they functioned. But by giving as good as we got against a big, dominant pack we gave foundation to our own play. There was a reasonably good line-out and our scrum held up the majority of the time.
“That allowed us to play to structures we have been working on and our tries were well put together.”
If Lawson gets the nod for Wales – and there is no reason to think he won’t, especially after doing well at the set-pieces as well as carrying and linking effectively – he is likely to be one of six survivors from Saturday’s squad who experienced a frenetic match four years ago when Scotland blow a 21-9 lead in Cardiff.
Is there a sense of having to exorcise that encounter from the mind?
“There are a lot of emotions – people being at certain times in international rugby. The highs and lows are part of it and you just have to try to use both to make you a better player.”
A low for Lawson on Saturday must have been his substitution in the 51st minute which was typical of an erratic policy by the current team management.
The former Edinburgh under-18 player looked secure in everything he did, but unsurprisingly was not about to complain afterwards.
“That’s just the way the game goes. I got 80 minutes against Italy and found myself being taken off after 50 minutes against France. I’ve benefited from being sent on, and been on the receiving end. I don’t think it had any bearing on the result of the game. What I do believe is if we go to Wales and provide the type of performance we have given in our past two games the outcome could be on a knife edge.”
In fact, this was the first occasion since the Six Nations was introduced in 2000 that Scotland have out-scored the French in try terms, 2-1.
Alas, that just made this latest setback all the more frustrating as, with better game management, particularly on the sidelines through more enlightened substitutes, the Scots could have convincingly seen off an extremely mediocre French opponent.
For coach Johnson to talk afterwards about wanting to maintain the pace of the contest seemed paradoxical given a reluctance to introduce fresh legs in some instances.
For example, Chris Cusiter has had success as an impact player at scrum half in this tournament and one player who looked as if he should have remained on given the havoc being wreaked upon the French line-out was Jim Hamilton.
Instead, Cusiter remained warming the bench and Hamilton was withdrawn.
It was not in Scotland’s interests to let the tempo drop and the way penalties flowed at rucks was to wonder if Chris Fusaro hadn’t been jettisoned wrongly as this specialist open-side, with Kelly Brown operating elsewhere in the back row, might have snaffled ball before colleagues could go off their feet or hold on too long in the tackle.
Stuart Hogg had a fine game at full back and is maturing into a true world-class performer, but with Scotland on the brink of landing a knock-out below before the interval, his attempt at a hopelessly speculative drop goal seemed self-indulgent.
Likewise, a drop-goal attempt midway through the second period with Scotland dominating field position could have left France requiring a couple of scores. There was a lack of conviction, too, about some penalty options and, having just failed from much longer range, Greig Laidlaw was immediately denied a shot from ten metres upfield.
The performance smacked at times of playing off the cuff and the lack of composure was seen not only in the attack which led to Yoann Huget intercepting for a try but through the inability to run down the clock.
Coach Johnson talked also of “growing pains” but that will strike many as just another euphemism for jam tomorrow.
Continually putting an emphasis on long-term glory not only gives coaches breathing space but could be a get-out card for not nailing victories when they are staring you in the face.
It wasn’t the first time Scotland have let France off the hook and suffered heartbreak.
I was there at the 1987 World Cup sectional tie in Christchurch when Serge Blanco was allowed to escape for a tap penalty try while a Scots player lay injured at the break in play and requiring treatment. That meant a draw that put Scotland on a quarter-final collision course with eventual winners, New Zealand.
History repeated itself in 1995 when an injury-time try by Emile N’tamack beat Scotland in another World Cup pool game and once again the All Blacks lay in wait.
This time there was an element of the fates conspiring against Scotland on home soil. But despite that, the phase ‘could’ve, should’ve” doesn’t begin to sum up a classic case of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
Scotland quickly fell 0-6 behind but were ahead when Hogg scored off his own hoisted kick after Sean Lamont caused chaos contesting the jump. Machenaud maintained his 100 per cent kicking rate in this Championship to restore the lead but Tommy Seymour’s ability to ghost over to the opposite wing and take a brilliant inside scoring pass from Matt Scott was a highlight.
At 14-9 the Scots ought to have kicked on but it was Huget who stepped in as Duncan Weir attempted to fuel a two-man overlap with a long pass that Huget intercepted and ran 90 yards – the effect was draining.
Although Weir partially atoned with a penalty, France had the last word in the most dramatic and painful of circumstances.
Scotland: Tries: Hogg, Seymour. Conversions: Laidlaw (2). Penalty: Laidlaw.
France: Try: Huget. Conversion – Machenaud. Penalties – Machenaud (3), Doussain.
Scotland: S. Hogg, T Seymour, A Dunbar, M Scott, S Lamont, D Weir, G Laidlaw; R Grant, S Lawson, G Cross, R Gray, J Hamilton, J Beattie, D Denton, K Brown (captain). Subs: R Wilson for Beattie (17), M Evans for Lamont (29), R Ford for Lawson (51), T Swinson for Hamilton (68). Unused: M Low, E Murray, C Cusiter, D Taylor.
France: B Dulin, Y Huget, M Bastareaud, M Mermoz, M Medard, J Plisson, M Machenaud; T Domingo, B Mach, N Mas, P Pape (captain), Y Maestri, S Vahaamahina, A Lapandry, D Chouly. Subs: R Tales for Plisson (46), G Guirado for Mach (47), A Flanquart for Maestri (59), R Slimani for Mas (59), A Claassen for Vahaamahina (66), G Fickou for Bastareaud (68), V Debaty for Domingo (68), J-M Doussain for Machenaud (74).
Referee: C Pollock (New Zealand).