AS Scotland captain in 39 of his 76 caps, Greig Laidlaw never knew when he was beaten, and on some memorable occasions managed to drag the team across the line in some games where defeat seemed all but inevitable. He still has that same indomitable spirit when it comes to the national team, even now that, being based in Japan, he can only watch their games from afar rather than taking part.
Now 35, the scrum-half retired from Test rugby after the 2019 World Cup, and is currently a few games into his first season in the Japanese Top League with NTT Shining Arcs. Given the leadership qualities he exhibited as a player, it is perhaps inevitable that when he watches Scotland’s matches on TV he still feels the old urge to be out there and make the difference.
“I’m always going to say I could probably do a job, but I’m not getting any younger,” Laidlaw said earlier today. “That was the beauty of me taking my own decision, I guess. Not everybody has the ability to do that. That was one of the things I wanted to be able to control. I loved playing for Scotland and I’d obviously love to be able to still play for the team.
“Listen, I don’t think they’re far away. The boys will be frustrated, and I’ve talked to a few of them, but they just need to look at their performances to realise they really aren’t far away. I think the forward pack is coming together and keeping them in games. It’s up to the boys now to finish well in the last couple of games after starting brilliantly against England.”
Scotland will still be favourites to beat Italy at Murrayfield on Saturday despite losing to Wales and Ireland in their last two matches, but getting the better of France in Paris the following week looks like a much taller order. However, Laidlaw believes that his old team play with exactly the sort of style that can worry the French – provided, of course, that they rectify some of the areas of their game that misfired badly against the Irish.
“Firstly, certainly at Test match level, you’ve got to fix the simple things, so Scotland will obviously look at their lineout, that’s probably the first area,” he continued. “And then the discipline. If they could also be a little bit more patient in their defence. They’re defending well. You need a little bit of luck as well, luck with the referee and the bounce of the ball.
“As much as France are excellent at the moment, and they’re really dangerous, I don’t think they’ll like playing against a team like Scotland. So when that game rolls around – obviously they’ve got to take care of Italy first – they’ve just got to go out there and be themselves, put in a Scottish performance, and I think they can put pressure on France.”
Based in Ichikawa, a city some 20 kilometres south-east of Tokyo, the Shining Arcs have recorded a win, a draw and two defeats in their four games so far this season in Japan’s Top League. The start to the campaign was delayed because of Covid, but Laidlaw used his enforced rest well by getting to know his new team-mates. Now, with a renewed state of emergency due to be lifted on Sunday, he is looking forward to spending more time socialising with the squad.
“Hopefully things are going to open up here over the summer and we can spend some time with team-mates. Certainly before the state of emergency things were fairly normal here compared to what it looks like back home in the UK. The restaurants were all open fairly normal hours, so the guys took me along to a few local Japanese restaurants.”
Scroll down to continue reading:
Although his first months in Japan were disrupted by the pandemic, Laidlaw has adapted pretty smoothly to life in Japan both on and off the pitch as he tries to steer the Shining Arcs up the table and has an important role to play as an ambassador for the league. Part of the reason for that is the fact he had already adapted once before to a different language and culture when he moved to Clermont-Auvergne in France, and, while these are still early days with his new club, he is convinced he made the right move at the right time.
In fact, the last four years of his career have been a succession of right moves at the right time, starting with his decision to leave Gloucester for French club rugby. If there is always an element of good fortune when things work out quite as well as they have done for the former Edinburgh back, there was a large element of planning involved as well.
“Well I’ve always been conscious, definitely, in trying to plan forward and map out where I want to be and what I want to achieve. I guess a little bit of luck comes into the equation as well, with injuries and opportunities.
“A lot of it’s to do with timing, with players moving on from Clermont. Certainly when I did sign for Clermont they were just really keen on me, because they wanted another strong figure to come in as a half-back alongside Morgan [Parra], because they felt when he didn’t play the team didn’t function. So that was almost the perfect fit for me.
“Going on the Lions tour off the back of my Gloucester career as well, that was really good timing. The fact it was down in New Zealand, it was a fantastic tour to be a part of.
“I’ve certainly always tried to plan ahead and look at opportunities, and think about forward planning and where I want to try and get to. That’s probably why I’ve ended up at NTT. Discussions were probably starting around the World Cup: I knew I had some interest out here, so I was really keen to try and make that come to light.
“And so far, so good,” he concluded. “I’m really enjoying the challenge and hopefully I’ve got a couple of decent seasons left in me probably before I hang up my boots.”