THOSE players left disappointed by exclusion from Scotland coach Vern Cotter’s squad and still young enough to contemplate a crack at Japan 2019 need only look to Greig Laidlaw to see how much can change in four years.
Back in 2011 the former Edinburgh captain who now plays for Gloucester, was devastated when he was left out of Andy Robinson’s group that travelled to New Zealand, with Mike Blair, Chris Cusiter and Rory Lawson taking the scrum-half berths. Now Laidlaw will captain for this year’s tournament in England, which starts later this month.
“It was a feeling of disappointment,” said Laidlaw. “I was in the position of some of the boys this time round. You do all the training and stuff, but Vern can only pick 31 players. It was 30 last time.
“It’s tough for the coaches and it’s tough for the players.”
The 29-year-old said that thoughts of making amends by making sure of his place at the next World Cup were not immediately formed. “Four years is a long time,” he said. “I got on with my business trying to play well for my club and then hope to get selected for my country. I didn’t think about 2015 too quickly.”
Laidlaw, who has skippered in 16 of his 40 caps – the last occasion being Saturday’s 48-7 win over Italy – now follows his Uncle Roy, who played in the inaugural 1987 tournament, and also in the footsteps of another Jed scrum-half, Gary Armstrong, who in 1999 also captained his country at a World Cup.
“I’m delighted and I am looking forward to the challenge,” said Laidlaw. “But we will need the whole group of players – the boys who start, the boys who come on. We need leaders throughout the field in a tough environment like the World Cup. We have developed the leaders’ group within the squad which has also helped me. I think you could see that over the last few weeks.
“In the Ireland game I thought the boys played very well and we did very well to get the win in Turin without a great performance. I really felt we played well at the weekend, but we’re not the finished article by any stretch of the imagination. It is up to the leadership group to make sure the players understand that.”
Cotter said that Laidlaw was the squad captain for the tournament, but said others could take on the role in the event of substitutions, team rotation and injury. He mentioned Henry Pyrgos and Grant Gilchrist, who have had a taste of captaincy in the last few weeks.
The form of Pyrgos at Glasgow and Edinburgh’s Sam Hidalgo-Clyne means there is a healthy competition for the Scotland No.9 jersey, something which cost Laidlaw four years ago. This year he has relished the rivalry and who believes lessons have been learned following the Six Nations in which Scotland came last. “Error count is one,” he said. “Without the Ireland game I think we were beaten by an average of four points in the other four games so it was little things. One error in 80 minutes can cost you. This time we have talked about having no dead moments. We have to be switched on.”
Cotter defended his decision to name Kiwi import John Hardie in his squad just over a month after the openside flanker arrived in the country. Hardie’s inclusion comes at the surprise expense of Blair Cowan, another New Zealand-born forward who had been Cotter’s first choice No 7 through last years autumn Tests and the 2015 Six Nations. Scarlets back-rower John Barclay, who delivered a stand-out try-scoring display in the 48-7 rout of Italy at the weekend, is also left out of the 31-man squad.
Cotter denied that Hardie’s place in the squad was guaranteed from the moment his plane touched down.
The coach said: “I said right from the start that he had to prove himself and he was dumped right in there. “I just shook his hand and said if you’re good enough you’ll make it and if you’re not then you won’t.
“He didn’t say ‘boo’, he just got on with his work.”
The other big surprise was the inclusion of Glasgow lock Tim Swinson, who has missed all of the World Cup preparation period after picking up an ankle injury at the end of the season.