Greig LAIDLAW helps launch the latest RBS Six Nations Championship away to England tomorrow, requiring just a couple of points to join an elite group of 13 players who have contributed a century of points to the Scottish cause.
However, while Laidlaw is keen to emulate the likes of Chris Paterson (809) through to Rowen Shepherd (104) as quickly as possible, what is paramount, he says, is Scotland establishing themselves in the contest early as well – and remaining on the front foot.
“Hopefully we will score more than once, but in my case, as a goal-kicker, you want to get your first one over and build confidence from there. We really need to get into the game straightaway.”
The man who will earn his 13th cap, but make a first start at scrum half after more than a season operating at stand off, acknowledged recent memories of what can happen while insisting that a 45-0 defeat for Edinburgh against Saracens at the outset of the Heineken European Cup will act as a spur.
“The Sarries game at Murrayfield was a warning about what can happen if you don’t front up. That game showed the importance of set-pieces and we gave away penalty after penalty which gave them territory and built pressure on us.
“I don’t expect that to happen this time. We have a big pack, a good pack, but it is a reminder of what can happen if you allow yourself to be put under pressure.”
In a sense, a first appearance at Twickenham will have an element of where it all began at international level for Laidlaw and his half back partner, Ruairidh Jackson.
“Ruairidh and I got our first caps in the same game (versus New Zealand at Murrayfield in 2010) and that is the only time we have played together,” recalled Laidlaw.
In fact, both came off the bench, Laidlaw in 38 minutes and Jackson for the final 13 minutes. One more substitute outing followed for Laidlaw before the move to stand off but he is confident the pairing will gel.
“I think those last ten caps at stand off and playing there for Edinburgh have really helped make me a more rounded player with a better outlook on the game. I don’t know about recommending a stint at scrum half to Ruairidh, but I do know we have sat down this week, looked at some tapes, and worked out ways in which we can impose ourselves.
“Ruaridh has been doing well for Glasgow and there’s no reason why he can’t take that forward with Scotland.”
One thing Laidlaw has fresh insight on is the need for appropriate cover when in defence, as it is unrealistic to expect traditionally one of the smallest men in the team to knock over runners almost double their size.
“It’s in the nature of playing stand off that you don’t get many imposing figures playing there. Technically you have to be good in defence and I have worked hard with Edinburgh and Scotland on my tackling.
“I’m pleased to be returning to scrum half, but the defensive side of things is something I’ll take with me.”
Jackson will be making his third start against England in a 15-cap career, but like the rest of the side, it will be a maiden outing under new interim coach Scott Johnson.
Does it help that Johnson was himself a stand off back in his native Australia, albeit he peaked short of Test standard?
“Scott has been brilliant,” says Jackson, adding: “He is very honest and tells you exactly what he wants. He is very straight lined and that’s good. It’s true he does joke around at times, but he is very honest and knowledgeable in his technical abilities in all positions.”
Jackson also recalled some unfinished business against England.
“At the last World Cup I was chosen to start against England in our crucial last pool game.
“It was such a good build-up and the atmosphere out in New Zealand was amazing then, just four minutes in, I tore a hamstring which was heartbreaking. It was frustrating, too, that last time at Twickenham on my first start for Scotland we got within a single score of beating England but not close enough.
“So, yes, I have unfinished business and hopefully this time we can do better with Greig and I providing a strong axis. And if the atmosphere at Twickenham is as hostile as I have discovered it can be I like that. The more we quieten the home crowd the better we’ll be doing.”