Greig Laidlaw: It's not about me, it's all about the team

Greig Laidlaw was keen to emphasise the 'collective' after being brought back into the Scotland starting line-up for tomorrow's visit of France but there must be an element of satisfaction that the call has come to help dig Scotland out of the Six Nations mire.
Greig Laidlaw has inside knowledge of French rugbyGreig Laidlaw has inside knowledge of French rugby
Greig Laidlaw has inside knowledge of French rugby

That 34-7 hammering in Cardiff brought Gregor Townsend’s buccaneers to a shuddering halt and Laidlaw is one of six, mostly experienced, men who have been brought back for the crunch encounter.

Ali Price had been viewed as the perfect fit for Townsend’s high-tempo gameplan and there was a suspicion that 32-year-old Laidlaw might struggle to force his way back in as the Scots build towards Japan 2019.

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For his part, Townsend has always been adamant that he viewed Laidlaw as a key figure in his plans and, last month, he was keen to stress that the widely-held perception that Laidlaw offered more nous but slower service, the roundhead to Price’s cavalier if you like, was not backed up by reality.

The young Glasgow scrum-half did not recover from a sloppy start in Cardiff and now the Jed man, who replaced him early in the second half last Saturday, is back in the No.9 jersey, and set to win his 60th cap.

Asked if there was a sense of vindication that he had been called upon to help steer the ship out of stormy waters, Laidlaw said: “It is a collective thing. The boys who are not starting this weekend will be hurting.

“In the same breath they will be used this weekend and when they come back on they need to give the team an injection. Same for the new boys. It is up to us to bring the energy to pick the boys up last weekend. We will never get that [Wales] game back. It has gone. We will look forward now to France.”

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Laidlaw played at BT Murrayfield in May when his Gloucester career ended in a European Challenge Cup final defeat by Stade Francais before he headed off to join French club Clermont Auvergne, and playing a midweek role on the Lions tour. His last act at the national stadium in a Scotland jersey was sending the match-sealing penalty through the posts in last year’s opener against Ireland.

A second broken ankle of the year ruled him out of the autumn series but he has made a timely recovery and is relishing the chance to be fully involved for Scotland again.

“It was frustrating [being on the bench in Cardiff], but I understand that because I haven’t played much rugby and Ali’s been playing really well for Glasgow,” he said.

“As a collective we let each other down last weekend. We need to look forward and the score’s 0-0 on Scotland v France at the minute.”

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Laidlaw is confident that the trauma of Cardiff will not have a lasting impact on Price, who threw the early interception pass which triggered the 
collapse. “We are all a team,” said Laidlaw.

“I sat down with Ali and this is where somebody like [assistant coach and former Scotland scrum-half], Mike [Blair] has been invaluable to myself and Ali.

“Ali didn’t play too badly. Just a couple of things didn’t go his way. If we had been set quicker it might have been easier for him. Of course he is going to be hurting that is human nature. But he will pick himself back up and he has trained well this week. He says he just wants to get out there again and play again in this championship.

“He will play a big part on Sunday afternoon [off the bench] as well.”

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Laidlaw will also be expected to play a mentor’s role with the pivotal figure of stand-off Finn Russell, who badly lost his way amid the carnage of Cardiff.

Scotland need a much-improved performance from the No.10 tomorrow and Laidlaw said: “I will be saying this is Test-match rugby. Finn understands that as well.

“He gets excitable and I love that side of him. He wants to always attack. I will be encouraging him to pick his head up, see what is in front of him.

“If they have 14 boys in the front line there has to be space in the back field. If there is space in the back field we get it down there and we back our defence.

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“I will just be keeping a tab on him. Make sure he is not getting too excited. He likes to attack, which is brilliant, I would never take that away from him. I can help steer him from inside. The centres have a big role in doing that as well.

“Everybody talks about the nine and the ten but the centres have a massive role to play as well. They sit in behind and have a little bit more time and space to read the game. If they are talking to Finn he can almost catch the ball and play the plays they are calling to help him out.”

Laidlaw will also bring the experience he has picked up during an, albeit injury-affected, first season at Clermont, who provide four players in the French starting team.

“The standard of French rugby is very good,” said Laidlaw. “It’s slightly different in that it’s more attritional with slightly bigger ball carriers, and it’s slightly slower.

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“But Clermont players are very fit, along the same lines as UK-based players. They pride themselves on their fitness; they are big boys and good players as well. If they can get their system right they’ll be a good team and we’ll need to be at our best this weekend if we want to win.”

Laidlaw’s absences through injury and Lions commitments last year mean the national team captaincy he had held for most of the Vern Cotter era was vacated rather than lost. John Barclay has made the role his for now, but Scotland’s third-highest points scorer returns as much more than a ceremonial deputy.

“Gregor’s named me as vice-captain but nothing changes because Barcs is a great captain,” said Laidlaw. “He’s shown that at the Scarlets and with Scotland, especially in 

“He’s got that experience and I’ll slip right in to help him out. He’ll deal with the forwards overall and I’ll take care of the backs. We’ll constantly be talking, we’ve done that all week and it’ll be no different in the game.”