NEWS this morning that Greig Laidlaw has put pen to paper on a two-season deal to play for Shining Arcs in the Japanese Top League may have come as a disappointment to Scottish rugby fans who had hoped that the talismanic former national team captain could be persuaded to play out his final few seasons back where it all began – but some comfort can be taken in the knowledge that the 34-year-old Borderer quite likes the idea of returning to his homeland in a coaching capacity once his adventure in the Land of the Rising Sun has run its course.
Laidlaw was first linked with a move to Japan – where he earned cult hero status during the 2016 summer tour and the 2019 World Cup – back in March, but then it all went quiet, and the idea that he might be homeward bound to add some playing experience to one of Scotland’s pro teams [most probably Edinburgh] whilst transitioning into coaching began to gain some traction. However, in the end, that proved to be nothing more than wishful thinking.
“I’ve never really spoken to Edinburgh, to be honest, so I think that was a bit of speculation which came from nowhere, really,” he explained. “But further down the track, I want to get into coaching and obviously there is only a couple of [professional] clubs in Scotland, and that’s where we want to eventually settle, so you never know.”
“It [the move to Japan] has been in the planning for a while now, but the way they do things in Japan they wanted to keep it under wraps until it was the right time for them to announce it, and I was more than happy to respect the way they do business,” he added.
“It has been a massive comfort to have that security of knowing what the next two years holds. As we’re all aware, it is uncertain times for a lot of players who are coming out of contract, and I really feel for those guys. I recognise that I’m in a very lucky position because it was done and dusted a while ago now.”
Laidlaw could very well find himself linking up at half-back with Australian international Christian Lealiifano next season.
“I’m back in Scotland at moment,” he continued. “I still have to speak to the club for exact dates, but they were talking about me heading out there for the end of September or start of October, because I think normally the league starts in December, although it looks like it will be pushed back to January this season.
“The plan is to go out there as a family, so long as everything is still calming down with this virus. Potentially Rachel and the kids may stay back for a little bit longer to allow the kids to do a term in school, but we still have to 100 percent confirm that.
“Logistically, it is going to be a bit of a challenge, although it can’t be more of a nightmare than moving back from France, but I won’t bore you with the story. It’s a long way to go, and a big change culturally, but the club is already helping me out with a few things which is going to really help.
“With all that’s going on in the world at the moment, it’s been good to get it all done and dusted, with the news out there. Now I can concentrate on getting myself in good shape to hit the ground running when I eventually make it out to Japan.”
Laidlaw will have turned 35 by the time he kicks a ball in anger for his new club, and he has made it clear that he is already thinking about life after hanging up his boots, but for the time being he is still fully committed to doing whatever it takes to be a big hit on the field for the Shining Arcs.
“In hindsight, this lay-off has been awesome for the body,” he explained. “I have never had a break like this from the game since I turned professional. It is difficult to really tell until you get out there and start playing, but I feel good at the minute because I have been training hard in the background, and by the time I come to play I’ll be ready – I’ll be excited and fresh and ready to go.
“I’ve not spoken to the coach about taking on any other roles, but hopefully I can lend my experience and show what I am all about, which is what I have tried to do wherever I have played.
“Certainly, I see my next natural step to be to move into coaching eventually, but I’m very much out there to play and get stuck in.
“It is going to be different, for sure. The brand of rugby is probably more like Super Rugby in terms of the way they are trying to play the game. I don’t think it will be up there in terms of the pure skill level but they are obviously getting better all the time, as Japan proved during the World Cup. There is a lot of good coaches and good players in Japan now, which can only help.”