Ali Price in box seat for No.'‰9 role despite Laidlaw recovery
Twelve months ago Ali Price knew exactly where he stood in Scotland's pecking order.
He was captain Greig Laidlaw’s understudy – back-up scrum-half – the young apprentice expected to provide fresh legs only when the main man had run himself empty.
That was until the skipper limped off injured in Paris just two games into the 2017 Six Nations, with the responsibility for setting the Dark Blues’ tempo falling to him for the remainder of the tournament.
A year on, he now finds himself as many pundits’ preferred candidate to start at No. 9 when Gregor Townsend takes charge of his first Championship clash against Wales in Cardiff on February 3.
Laidlaw, below, is again battling to be fit but, even if healthy, there is no guarantee the Clermont Auvergne veteran would get the nod given Price’s current form.
His niftiness clearing from the breakdown and a close understanding with Glasgow colleague Finn Russell have been fundamental to the rapid start Warriors have made to the Guinness PRO14 season.
Those factors will be just as important if the Scots are to fulfil the promise they displayed during the autumn and finally convert potential into NatWest Six Nations results.
Yet given the breakneck rate of his ascent to key figure, Price is taking nothing – not even his place – for granted.
The 24-year-old said: “Last year I was new to the squad, I’d only been called up for the November series and Greig was going well.
“He’s the captain, an incredible leader, so I knew my place.
“As much as I wanted to start, I knew why I was there. My role was to bring tempo off the bench if required.
“So when he got injured – and my only cap before that had involved seven minutes against Georgia – I didn’t have time to think. Before I knew it I was on.
“While we lost the match, I felt I got myself involved. I took a lot of confidence from people afterwards telling me I didn’t look out of place.
“I felt I could live with these guys, so it was a big game for me in terms of realising I could mix it at this level.
“But it’s a privilege to start. I never feel it’s my right to get the jersey ahead of anyone else.
“I don’t think I’ll feel any more pressure if I do. My first start for Scotland was the game after Paris at home to Wales. That’s probably the most nervous I’ve ever been before a game.
“But afterwards I realised it was just another match.”
Scotland, the Six Nations’ perennial under-achievers, are now suddenly considered genuine Championship contenders after their stunning November displays, when New Zealand were pushed close and Australia obliterated.
Price points to the feats recently managed by Glasgow, Edinburgh and the tartan contingent playing for Saracens and Scarlets as the reason for the national side’s confidence surge.
“We now have guys at clubs that win,” he said. “We don’t have guys playing for sides just hoping to compete.
“Maybe five years ago, the side wasn’t going into big games thinking we’re favourites to win this. We are now, so it’s a different mentality. We’re winners.”