Laidlaw boots Scotland to win over fiesty France
SIX NATIONS MATCH REPORT: Six second-half penalties by Greig Laidlaw earned Scotland a hard-fought 32-26 victory against France, kick-starting their Six Nations campaign after their crushing 34-7 loss to Wales in Cardiff.
Celebrating his restoration to Scotland's starting line-up for the first time in 12 months, the 32-year-old scrumhalf, who plays his club rugby in France for Clermont – also weighed in with two first-half conversions for a personal tally of 22 points.
Scotland were caught cold after two minutes, Racing 92 wing Thomas ghosting past stand-off Finn Russell on the home 10-metre line and cutting inside on a diagonal run that took him past the despairing Stuart Hogg en route to a carbon copy of his late score against Ireland last week.
Maxime Machenaud's conversion left Scotland 7-0 down and the Racing scrumhalf stretched the lead to 10-0 with a ninth-minute penalty.
Scotland hit back after 12 minutes, locks Jonny Gray and Grant Gilchrist setting up a drive on the left that ended with Russell floating a scoring pass for wing Sean Maitland.
Laidlaw's touchline conversion reduced the deficit to 10-7 but, having worked so hard to get themselves back into the contest, Scotland found themselves undone by a piece of opportunism by Thomas.
With 26 minutes on the clock, the flying wing took a feed from fullback Geoffrey Palis and chipped the ball into the Scotland in-goal area. The bounce of the ball eluded the covering Laidlaw and Thomas had his second try, Machenaud's conversion furnishing the visitors with a 17-7 cushion.
Once again, Scotland struck back, Glasgow centre Huw Jones taking a crash ball feed from Laidlaw to plunder his eighth try in 13 internationals. Laidlaw's conversion cut the gap to 17-14, though a second Machenaud penalty gave France a 20-14 lead with the final kick of the first-half.
Two further three-pointers from Laidlaw, after being switched to the stand-off role, stretched Les Bleus' winless run to an eighth match.
France's scrumhalf - and goalkicker - was replaced at the interval by Baptiste Serin and three minutes after the resumption the lead was down to 20-17, courtesy of a Laidlaw penalty.
The second-half settled into a penalty contest, Serin landing two and Laidlaw a further two to leave the score 26-23 to France going into the final quarter.
Laidlaw followed up with a fourth penalty success, squaring the match at 26-26 after 64 minutes.
It was then that Stuart Townsend rolled the dice, withdrawing Russell, switching Laidlaw to stand-off and bringing on Ali Price at scrumhalf.
It proved to be a master-stroke, providing the Scots with the momentum that took them into the lead for the first time with Laidlaw's fifth penalty ten minutes from time.
For good measure, Laidlaw nailed the sixth penalty after 76 minutes, easing the heartache of defeat in Cardiff and raising Scottish spirits for the visit of England on February 24.
At least France were spared the injury-time despair they suffered from their last-gasp defeat courtesy of Jonny Sexton's long-range drop goal on the opening weekend.
Next up for Jacques Brunel's side will be a Marseille encounter with his former charges, Italy, on February 23.
Man of the match: France's Teddy Thomas was a real threat in the first half and scored two tries in the first half, while his teammate Yacouba Camara was also very impressive. However, the man of the match title goes to Scotland scrumhalf Greig Laidlaw, whose accuracy from the tee was vital for Scotland in the second half.
Tries: Maitland, Jones
Cons: Laidlaw 2
Pens: Laidlaw 6
Cons: Machenaud 2
Pens: Machenaud 2, Siren 2
Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Pete Horne, 11 Sean Maitland, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Greig Laidlaw, 8 Ryan Wilson, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 John Barclay (captain), 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Grant Gilchrist, 3 Simon Berghan, 2 Stuart McInally, 1 Gordon Reid.
Replacements: 16 Scott Lawson, 17 Jamie Bhatti, 18 Jon Welsh, 19 Ben Toolis, 20 David Denton, 21 Ali Price, 22 Chris Harris, 23 Blair Kinghorn.
France: 15 Geoffrey Palis, 14 Teddy Thomas, 13 Remi Lamerat, 12 Geoffrey Doumayrou, 11 Virimi Vakatawa, 10 Lionel Beauxis, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Marco Tauleigne, 7 Yacouba Camara, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 4 Arthur Iturria, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhem Guirado (captain), 1 Jefferson Poirot.
Replacements: 16 Adrien Pelissie, 17 Eddy Ben Arous, 18 Cedate Gomes Sa, 19 Paul Gabrillagues, 20 Louis Picamoles, 21 Baptiste Serin, 22 Anthony Belleau, 23 Benjamin Fall.
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Nigel Owens (Wales), Paul Williams (New Zealand)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)