Laidlaw hails Vern’s calming influence

03/10/15. TSPL Shift.  Rugby World Cup 2015, Pool B game,. South Africa v Scotland, St James park, Newcastle. Scotland's Greig Laidlaw lines up a penalty. . Picture Ian Rutherford
03/10/15. TSPL Shift. Rugby World Cup 2015, Pool B game,. South Africa v Scotland, St James park, Newcastle. Scotland's Greig Laidlaw lines up a penalty. . Picture Ian Rutherford

Skipper Greig Laidlaw admits Scotland needed a calming word from head coach Vern Cotter as their World Cup quarter-final hopes were left hanging in the balance.

The Dark Blues were up against a Samoa side in Newcastle who were already out of the tournament, but they found themselves struggling to hang on as the Pacific Islanders cut through their shambolic defence at will.

Samoa looked like they would score every time they went forward and claimed a narrow lead at the break after Tusi Pisi, Manu Leiataua and Reynold Lee-Lo crossed over, with Tommy Seymour and John Hardie responding for Cotter’s team.

Defeat would have handed the initiative to Japan - who play the United States on Sunday - but the Kiwi managed to settle his team down at the break and they eventually claimed a 36-33 win to set up a last-eight meeting with Australia at Twickenham next Sunday.

Laidlaw - who scored a decisive touchdown 10 minutes from time to render a last-gasp Motu Matu’u score meaningless - said: “We are delighted. It’s a great feeling to be in the last eight. For me personally, to lead Scotland into the quarters is the highlight of my career.

“At times we were down in the game but it was credit to Vern and the coaches for the way they kept us calm at half-time.

“We got the scrum at the end and I turned to the boys and told them I wanted to take it if they would back me. The forwards knew they had them under pressure so we took the scrum and I managed to score off the back of it.”

It took an hour for the Scots to finally nudge themselves in front and Laidlaw added: “We were not worried.

“Obviously we hadn’t planned to be behind for so long. We were starved of the ball for a lot of the first half and as a defence, we just got too tight and they exposed us round the edges.

“But we stayed calm and that’s credit to Vern and the coaches. We had a clear game plan and we just felt if we executed it we would win the game.

“That was the message at half-time - don’t panic and you’ll grind them down.”

The St James’ Park clash also saw substitute Sean Lamont become just the second Scot to win 100 caps, while lock Richie Gray reached his half-century.

And Laidlaw believes the his tight-knit squad will only improve as they march south to London.

He said: “We missed out on the quarters four years ago so it was a great feeling back in the dressing room.

“It was a special day. Richie got his 50th cap and Sean his 100th. He believes that in his 100 caps this is the best squad in terms of camaraderie we have ever had. That goes a long way and it showed today.”

Cotter admits the Samoans - who will now have to qualify for the 2019 World Cup after missing out on third place in Pool B - caught his side by surprise with their rampant display.

But he praised his players for digging deep to get the job done.

He said: “I’m really proud of the boys and the way they played, they were down at half-time but showed the character and spirit to come back. It showed just how much it means to them and I’m really happy for the group as they worked so hard to get there.

“That is phase one and we need to move to phase two, which is the knock-outs, but I think there were some pretty good things out there.

“We took the scrum at the end and it paid off with Greig’s try and that showed the confidence and spirit we have from this group.

“We saw things from Samoa which we hadn’t seen from them so far and they were impressive. But we adapted and got through in the end.”