Scrum-half Greig Laidlaw would be ready to start his first game for Scotland in almost a year in Wales on Saturday if called upon after playing 80 minutes for his club on Sunday.
That’s the view of Scotland assistant coach Mike Blair, who is anticipating a tough selection decision over whether Laidlaw or Ali Price is handed the No.9 jersey for the Six Nations opener in Cardiff.
Price, the 24-year-old Glasgow player, has seized the opportunity presented by 32-year-old Laidlaw’s injuries and Lions involvement last year and has been widely tipped to continue in the role.
However, Laidlaw, who has ceded the captaincy to John Barclay in his absence, has made a successful comeback from a broken ankle for Clermont Auvergne, completing a full game and kicking 19 points at the weekend against Montpellier.
He will have that goalkicking, renowned game management and the experience of 58 caps on his side in the selection meeting and Blair, himself an 85-times capped former Scotland scrum-half, reckons his former Edinburgh team-mate is good to go.
“I think Greig will be ready, yeah,” said Blair at Scotland’s Oriam training base yesterday. “I think had the game [on Sunday] been 15 minutes off the bench you wouldn’t be able to see what his fitness was like, how he deals with different situations, so that might have been a different discussion.
“But I think he’s shown that he’s match fit and hasn’t picked up any extra injuries, so he’ll be available for selection.”
Compared to other positions, such as front row, it is a luxury for head coach Gregor Townsend to have such a head scratcher when it comes to choosing between Price and Laidlaw and Blair admitted it was “a great position to be in”.
He added: “Ali has been great. When I first went to Glasgow summer two and-a-half years ago [as a player and skills coach] he played a couple of games off the bench for Glasgow but had not played a huge amount.
“He started playing a few games at the tail end of that season and his ability is clear to see. That speed of pass is something he has worked hard on. His kicking game is something that has improved the most.”
If Laidlaw was to be on the bench on Saturday it would be a relatively new experience for a man who has started 53 of the 58 caps he has won for his country and a first in the Six Nations since his maiden appearance in the tournament – the Calcutta Cup match of 2012.
“The pair can be interchangeable,” said Blair. “Greig has done it. Maybe not as regularly in his career, but the way he can manage a game obviously it is excellent when he starts because you can see how the game unfolds.
“Also potentially combing off the bench with the different scenarios it is something he can do very well. Likewise with Ali, he has strengthened his game management side and you would feel bringing him on in different situations as well.”
It was confirmed yesterday that lock Richie Gray will miss Saturday’s game and remain with his club Toulouse to recover from a calf injury, which Blair reported would be an absence of “weeks, not months ... sooner rather than later”.
The skills coach added: “Richie wasn’t involved in the autumn and wasn’t involved in the summer tour so it’s a situation we’ve been able to handle in the past.
“Obviously he’s a quality player and a guy we were really keen to see back in the group and see how he fits in. He needs to get himself right as there’s no point having him here if he isn’t 100 per cent right.
“He’ll get himself right and we’ll look forward to seeing him when he’s ready.
“The funny thing about rugby is that there are always bumps and bruises. I probably couldn’t tell you what everyone has but we have an almost full squad at the moment.”