EDINBURGH — New Zealand-born Scotland wing Sean Maitland believes the Six Nations win over Ireland could be the start of a new era for a side under the caretaker charge of Australian coach Scott Johnson.
Last Sunday’s gutsy 12-8 win at Murrayfield on Sunday followed a victory over Italy and saw Scotland enjoying back-to-back Six Nations successes for the first time since 2001.
It also left Scotland level on four points with second-placed Wales in the table, and just two behind leaders England.
"It’s a pretty great feeling," said Maitland, drafted in by Johnson this season. "This is just the start for our team."
Scotland’s defeat of Ireland was a triumph of team spirit, with the Irish dominating more than 70% of territory and scoring the only try of the match through wing Craig Gilroy.
But they failed to kill the game off and Scotland, from 8-0 down early in the second half, saw their forwards provide a platform for scrumhalf Greig Laidlaw to kick them into a winning position with four penalties.
Ireland did have one final chance to salvage a win but with 80 minutes up and in the last play of the game, debutant centre Luke Marshall knocked in sight of Scotland’s try line.
"I was really scared," said Maitland. "I thought they were going to get in for a try. But to hold out and show our courage on defence was very pleasing. It just shows the character of the men in this side."
Meanwhile, Scotland prop Ryan Grant hailed Johnson’s decision to move Laidlaw back to his more familiar position of scrumhalf. Laidlaw has been playing at flyhalf for much of the season with club side Edinburgh but, following the Test retirement of former Scotland No9 Mike Blair, Johnson installed him at scrumhalf. And the way Laidlaw, the nephew of Scotland scrumhalf great Roy Laidlaw, directed his pack as well as dictating play when his side did get their hands on the ball, suggested Johnson had made a smart call.
"Greig is a class, class player. He is great with the boot and a great marshal of the pack," said Grant. "That’s why he’s perfect for the nine role. He speaks to the forwards and lets us know where we need to be. He does the same with the backs and has got a great understanding with them."
Wales assistant coach Neil Jenkins, whose side saw off Italy 26-9 in Rome last weekend, refused to entertain talk of a March 16 Cardiff title shootout against Grand Slam chasers England on the final day of the championship. Instead the former Wales outside-half, who helped wreck England’s bid for a Grand Slam when he kicked the winning conversion in a 32-31 win at Wembley in 1999, said the team would not take Scotland lightly when they faced the resurgent hosts at Murrayfield on March 9.
"They (Scotland) are the same as us — two wins out of three — and it is a home game for them," Jenkins said. "They will fancy their chances against us and then to go to Paris on the final day with a chance of maybe them winning the championship.
"It was an excellent win for them on the weekend against Ireland. People talked afterwards about stats and possession, but if you have got the ball you have got to take your chances."