Scotland skipper Greig Laidlaw admits it will be “awkward” coming face to face with Craig Joubert again but insists he won’t allow that particular sideshow to distract from the job in hand this weekend.
The South African referee, who inflicted World Cup heartache on the Scots when his wrongly-awarded late penalty gave Australia a dramatic 35-34 quarter-final win last October, will be on touch judge duty at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Saturday when Scotland face Ireland in their last Six Nations match.
Joubert was widely criticised for running off the Twickenham pitch after his final whistle last October, and Laidlaw, whose side are looking for a third straight win in the tournament, was asked if he expects to receive the handshake he is owed.
“You know, I think I’ll get asked this for the rest of my career,” he said. “The answer is I don’t know. If we get a handshake then, well, it’s not going to change the result. It won’t change what happened, unfortunately. As we’ve said before, mistakes happen and we’ll never get it back.
“It will probably be a bit awkward, I’m not going to lie, when he comes into the dressing-room. But we can’t worry about that. If we do, we’ll take our eye off the ball for the game. And clearly we don’t want to do that.”
Asked if he had put the disappointment of that World Cup exit behind him, Laidlaw paused before he said: “To be honest, I don’t know. That’s the only answer I have. It’s always going to be there, isn’t it?
“But what I want to do is win another game in the Six Nations. I can only come back to that. The more times you win in a Scotland jersey, the better your memory of the experience will be. That’s all I’m trying to do on the weekend.”
Scotland will be looking to carry the momentum from Sunday’s morale-boosting 29-18 home win over France but will be without lock Jonny Gray when they travel to Dublin later in the week after he was ruled out yesterday with a pectoral tear.
It was also confirmed that No.8 David Denton, who was forced out of the previous win over Italy on the eve of the match in Rome with a groin injury, will miss the trip too.
Ryan Wilson and Josh Strauss have played No.8 in the past two games, while Tim Swinson has been covering lock on the bench and could replace Gray on Saturday, with either Glasgow’s Rob Harley or Edinburgh’s Ben Toolis drafted into the matchday squad.
Following the successes over the French and Italians, the Scots find themselves on the cusp of their best series of results in the championship for 20 years.
The mind-blowing nature of the turnaround was not lost on Laidlaw but he said that he and his players knew that the the dismal run of nine consecutive defeats in the competition had not been a fair reflection of their efforts and ability.
“We felt we were that close,” said the scrum-half, who will lead his team out for a record 26th time on Saturday. “We were bitterly disappointed by how we played in the England game. In the Welsh game, I thought we played fantastically well, so we really felt as a group we weren’t that far away.
“We were delighted to have won the last couple of games and to prove that to ourselves and to some other people as well. We’ve got one big challenge left, which is going to be tough. They’re the reigning champions, on their home patch, but we’ve got to play with confidence and if we play well we’re in with a chance to win the game.”
A year ago, Ireland won the title at BT Murrayfield when they thumped Scotland 40-10 in comfortably the worst performance of head coach Vern Cotter’s tenure. The Scots had to slink away and leave the Irish players and fans to party in their manor, and Laidlaw admits it was a painful afternoon.
“Not good,” he said when asked about his memories. “It’s probably one of the hardest games I’ve had in my career in a Scotland top, in terms of the pressure we were under.
“Me being captain, I felt everything and we were well beaten that day. It was a tough game. Clearly we were on the back end of a tournament where we’d struggled for confidence and wins, while Ireland were chasing the championship. So it was a tough day.
“But, if you learn from experiences like that, you come out the other side as a better player and a better person. So we feel we’re in that place now and we need to use some of the feeling we had that day, to put it into our performance come the weekend.”