GREIG LADILAW says the fact that Craig Joubert is one of the assistant referees in Saturday’s final Six Nations clash against Ireland in Dublin will have no bearing on how his team approach the match.
It will be the first time the South African whistler has crossed paths with the Scotland team since his calamitous refereeing performance in last year’s World Cup quarter-final, when he controversially awarded a late penalty to Australia, which allowed Bernard Foley to grab three vital points and secure a scarcely-deserved 35-34 victory for the Wallabies.
World Rugby later admitted that a scrum should have been awarded to Australia instead of a penalty.
Joubert was also criticised after that match for yellow-carding Sean Maitland for a deliberate knock-on, when every other person watching the game in the stadium and at home (except from TMO Ben Skeen) could see that the Scottish winger had made a genuine attempt to catch the ball.
However, Joubert’s biggest crime that afternoon was to sprint off the pitch after the match without shaking hands with either captain – an act which was perceived as a cowardly admission of guilt at the end of a match in which he had far too much direct influence over the outcome.
Time may be a great healer, but Laidlaw made it clear yesterday that he is still finding it hard to forgive and forget the role Joubert played in one of the most heart-breaking instalments yet in the long running saga which is the story of Scottish rugby.
But the Scotland captain believes the team will be able to put their frustration at what happened nearly five months ago to one side and will be focussed entirely on the job at hand when they run out at the Aviva Stadium this weekend.
“Craig Joubert won’t affect us as a team and he certainly won’t affect what we do on the field come the weekend. We can’t worry about the referee or the touch judges. If we start doing that we’ll take our eye off the ball,” he insisted.
“We’ll be solely fixed on our role, on what we’ve got to do on the field. We’ll remove all that other stuff that’s around us.”
Laidlaw was asked if he was expecting a long overdue handshake from Joubert in Dublin on Saturday.
“You know, I think I’ll get asked [about] this for the rest of my career. The answer is I don’t know,” he replied.
“If we get a handshake then … well … it’s not going to change the result. It won’t change what happened, unfortunately. As we’ve said before, mistakes happen – and we’ll never get it back.”
“So it will probably be a bit awkward, I’m not going to lie, when he comes into the dressing room – but we can’t worry about that. If we worry about that, if we think back to that, we’ll take our eye off the ball for the game. And clearly we don’t want to do that.”
When he was asked if he thought he had personally got over the events of that fateful day, there was a long pause.
“To be honest, I don’t know. That’s the only answer I have. It’s always going to be there, isn’t it? But what I want to do is win another game in the six Nations. I can only come back to that,” was his eventual response.
“The more times you win in a Scotland jersey, the better your memory of the experience will be. That’s all I’m trying to do on the weekend.”
Scotland go into the match on a high after back-to-back victories over Italy away and then France at home. They may be contending with a six day turnaround, but Laidlaw insists that he is not overly concerned about the players being worn out after their heroic exploits at Murrayfield on Sunday.
The boys put in a big effort and as always the bumps are never as sore when you wake up after a win. So we’re in a good place,” he said.
“It’s just a fact that we’ve got a shorter turnaround. You need to deal with it. But one of the good things here is we’re very well looked after, from the doctors and physios to the strength-and-conditioning guys. They know how to get us back up to speed.”
“It’s going to be a light week in terms of being on our feet. But, mentally, we can put a lot of work in off the field. The coaches and myself will be putting pressure on the players to do that, to look at videos and study the opposition, so that we know our game-plan going into the weekend.”
“We delivered on the weekend, now we need that consistency so that we get that performance time and again – every time we take the field,” he added.
“The boys in the jerseys, the players chosen to have that honour, they need to step up and deliver because it was brilliant for us to be involved in, for the coaches and for the supporters
‘To go and do it away in Ireland is a different challenge, a second away win in the Championship – it would be outstanding. They’re the reigning champions, on their home patch, but we’ve got to play with confidence and if we play well we’re in with a chance to win the game.”
Scotland have already lost lock Jonny Gray from the team which started against France, and Finn Russell is also a serious doubt after suffering a head knock after just four minutes of that match. He is currently going through the graduated return-to-play protocol which is mandatory after concussion.
If the fly-half doesn’t make it, then Peter Horne is in pole position to inherit the number ten jersey after slotting in there on Sunday. The Glasgow Warriors man is primarily a centre, but Laidlaw believes that he has shown himself to be more than capable of taking over the chief playmaker role if required.
“Going on Sunday’s evidence: no, I wouldn’t be worried about him starting there. He was energised [and] he was detailed in what he was doing on the field. He was certainly effective,” concluded the scrum-half.