After Scotland toughed it out for the win over France on Sunday – in their second fixture of these Six Nations – we take a look at the impact of the players returning to Scotland colours after prolonged absences of injury or disfavour. By Erin McRitchie
It was one of those games that leaves you unable to sit still. Defences stood stoic and strong, lines were very seldom broken – though when they were, that was not to say the battle for a try was won. There were only four tries in the whole 80 minutes. Yet, there was still plenty to talk about coming out of the game.
It was eventually Scotland that would prevail, overcoming a six-point deficit at half-time – with France leading 20-14 – to capture a 32-26 victory.
France scored both of their tries through winger Teddy Thomas in the third and 27th minute. Meanwhile, Scotland’s two would be produced by Sean Maitland, in the 13th minute, and Huw Jones in the 32nd.
Ultimately, the game would come down to the pin-point accuracy of Greig Laidlaw’s kicking. The scrum-half attained a 100% kicking stat for the game and it was a joy to witness all eight of his kicks sailing over the crossbar.
Not a bad comeback, I’d say. For the experienced number nine has not represented his country since being injured in the very same fixture of last year’s tournament. So surely it was inevitable that Laidlaw was coming back with a point to prove – and prove it, he did.
With his two conversions and six penalties, Laidlaw surpassed 600 points scored for Scotland. Gregor Townsend was clearly impressed with the old-guard as, come 65 minutes, as Ali Price was being sent onto the field, it was Finn Russell the coach chose to remove from the park. Laidlaw would move to stand-off, and Scotland fans would let out a sigh of relief that he was staying on.
It was not only the fans that recognised Laidlaw’s strong impact, however. As well as the match’s commentators – who deemed him Man of the Match – former Scotland player John Beattie would write for BBC Sport that: “Greig Laidlaw provided an overarching calm and assurance.”
Laidlaw would not be the only triumphant return, however. Could we all just say a collective, ‘welcome back’, to David Denton. The number eight and flanker has not played internationally since the summer tour of Japan in 2016. However, he seemed determined to leave his mark on the final 15 minutes of the game, having replaced captain John Barclay.
The former Edinburgh Rugby forward, proved to still be as strong a ball carrier as ever, wreaking havoc on the French line. Overall, he completed six runs, gaining nine metres.
In their rolling report of the game, The Guardian recognised the impact he had upon the game, stating: “Denton has added some steel to that Scotland pack.”
The Scotland pack certainly did have quite a day. Prop Simon Berghan, in his first game since completing his ban – as a result of a red card in one of the Edinburgh v Glasgow Warriors fixtures – completed an impressive 12 runs in attack and six tackles in defence. His performance did not go unnoticed, with John Beattie noting: “Simon Berghan blossomed the longer the game went on.”
He was not the only Edinburgh Rugby player to impress, as Grant Gilchrist had one of his best games of the season in a Scotland shirt. Playing for 57 minutes before being replaced by Edinburgh teammate Ben Toolis, Gilchrist charted a total of 10 runs, totalling 19 metres gained.
BBC Sport’s Andy Burke was evidently pleased with Gilchrist’s game, mentioning: “Impressive recalled lock Grant Gilchrist blasted through a couple of tackles to get the French retreating.”
It may not have been a game filled with scintillating tries, or disciplinary drama, but it was a game that showed true grit and determination. Gregor Townsend’s men had a loss to avenge, and doubters to prove wrong.
They did just that. If one thing is for sure, it is that you cannot doubt the passion of this Scotland team. Townsend himself praised his players ability to come from behind to win – especially at test match level – noting that such a feat: “shows the character of the squad and the togetherness.”