Scotland skipper Greig Laidlaw believes victory at home to Ireland in Saturday’s concluding RBS Six Nations Championship match could help sustain the team through the build-up to this Autumn’s World Cup.
The Scots have lost all four games so far but the scrum-half, in looking at the bigger picture, remains optimistic that a springboard can be achieved on the way to creating a better feelgood factor.
“There’s an opportunity to finish on a high and that is a driving force,” said Laidlaw, adding: “If we can win this it gives us a bit of a sigh of relief going forward to pre-World Cup games.”
The first of four preliminaries takes place on August 15 – ironically against Ireland in Dublin – and Laidlaw said: “Lose this one and it is long time before you play for Scotland again and that is the worst situation to be in.
“If we can beat a good team like Ireland that would be good going forward and show that our efforts have led to something in the end.
“This is a huge game, firstly to take some confidence from the Six Nations and secondly building towards the World Cup.
“It is always competitive, but this means a lot more.”
Laidlaw wasn’t exactly invoking the ‘leave ‘em laughing’ philosophy beloved of the showbusiness fraternity; Scotland’s recent record is much too poor for that with five successive home defeats in the Championship for the first time since 1970.
But the point about signing off successfully is well-made, with the former Edinburgh star now at Gloucester acknowledging one area requiring particular attention.
On four occasions in the last two Championships, the Scots have failed to register a point after half-time.
On another three occasions only a single penalty goal has been recorded.
“[Coach] Vern Cotter has looked at our performances from early on to late in the game and maybe we have just been getting away from what we have been doing in first half,” said Laidlaw.
“We need to address what is going on and we’ve spoken about sticking to a game plan which had been shown to work.
“When a game starts getting tight ‘let’s not move away from our system because we are in the game’ was said. It is now about understanding why we sometimes don’t follow through.
“Some of the boys got an eye opener with Vern explaining if we keep doing this, this and this the outcome will be a positive one.”
The latest example of falling out of contention came at Twickenham last weekend when the Scots turned round 13-10 in front.
“At 13-20 I still thought we were in contention but instead of holding the ball we maybe forced off-loads because we chasing and maybe put a couple of kicks through when we should have held it. Those were split second decisions,” said Laidlaw. “I don’t think teams are figuring us out. We are varying our attacks very well and maybe getting to half time in a good position then maybe just dropping slightly
“In the first part of the second half we let England come at us and there’s only so much you can soak up.”
So far Scotland have scored one more try in this tournament than they managed in 2014 – five compared to four – but the touchdown record against Ireland is woeful as 203 minutes have elapsed since Richie Gray crossed the whitewash in 2012.
“When under a little bit of pressure players can go quiet. It has got to be the opposite (reaction),” said Laidlaw.
“When you have players speaking in attack or defence it lifts everyone. I will be encouraging players not to go into their shells and to keep expressing themselves, keep attacking.
“Speaking to some of the English and Welsh boys they believe we are now a threat and a much better team.
“Ireland have had a good championship up until last weekend (when losing to Wales). Beat them and as players we’ll say it is because we did this... it gives confidence.”