Greig Laidlaw: Wearing the jersey with pride
He might have 66 Scotland caps to his name, but the way Greig Laidlaw talks about playing for the national team, it’s clear he’s as motivated as ever. Laidlaw missed the 2017 Autumn Tests through injury but returned for this year’s NatWest 6 Nations campaign and helped deliver some historic results.
Laidlaw earned his first cap for Scotland against New Zealand in November 2010 and he hasn’t looked back since. Alongside his haul of 652 points (which places him third on Scotland’s all time list) his performances in the Rugby World Cup 2015 earned him a nomination for World Rugby’s Player of the Year award.
The captain and scrum-half’s place in the Scotland side has long since been cemented however, while injury in the second round of the 2017 Six Nations ended his campaign prematurely, he recovered in time to earn selection for the Lions and their tour of New Zealand. Next came a big life-change – a move to France and the opportunity to play for Top 14 side ASM Clermont Auvergne. It’s a move that’s worked out well, both in terms of rugby and family life.
“Last year was difficult. I went out there on the back of the Lions tour and not having much holidays and I picked up an injury so it took me a while to find my feet. This year it feels like a different club. In the Top 14 we’ve only lost two games away from home and we’ve won the rest so we’re top of the league. We feel really sharp and we’re playing a positive brand of rugby as well. Things in France are good and I’m looking to bringing that to Scotland.”
Laidlaw admits that life in France is somewhat different to life in his home-town of Jedburgh, whether it’s the weather or the local wine, and says he’s been touched by how welcoming people in Clermont have been, whether it’s neighbours inviting him round to dinner or the club putting on French language lessons for their overseas players. He says that if he hasn’t quite “mastered” the language, he’s got a fair grasp of it.
Laidlaw says that being away from Scotland has given him a greater appreciation of getting the chance to represent his country.
“Even flying in, flying over the top of Scotland and seeing the beautiful country below then arriving in Edinburgh, straight away I was excited to get involved and represent this country,” he said.
Laidlaw has been on the frontline in numerous high pressure games and he’s known for his leadership and composure. He says that this ability to keep a cool head comes from experience and time spent playing at international level.
“Test matches are different from club rugby. The best players in the world are playing internationals so the gaps are smaller, the rucks are quicker and the hits are a little bit bigger. Mentally you need to prepare yourself and you can only get that through experience. I’ve been around long enough now to know you just have to stay in the middle – you don’t get too excited; you don’t get too upset. You’ve got to keep level-headed and give the team direction when they need it.”
Despite his experience, Laidlaw is well aware that competition for a place in the Scotland squad has never been be fiercer. He sees this competition as healthy for the team but also good for him, saying that he knows what he can bring to the team and backs himself as a player and as an individual.
Another factor in a team’s success is the support of its fans, and Laidlaw says you can never underestimate the value of the crowd for the team.
“I think the Scotland supporters have really reconnected with the team and the fact that these games are selling out speaks volumes,” he said. “That certainly is noticed by the players. It’s good that they expect us to win at BT Murrayfield and it’s up to us to meet that expectation.Every time we represent our country it’s about winning and there’s no better place to do it than at home.”
With Rugby World Cup 2019 on the horizon, the players taking part in the Autumn Tests are well aware that their performance now will count towards selection for Japan. Laidlaw is no exception, but says that there are a lot of games to get through before then.
“As players we’ve got games to worry about week in week, out whether it’s for Scotland or your club,” he said. “So firstly you can’t look past the Autumn Tests and then a massive Six Nations. There’s a lot of rugby to be played before the World Cup.”
With that in mind, Laidlaw is focused on the task in hand. He says that when he gets the chance to represent his country he thinks about all of the people who have helped him along the way – his family, those who encouraged him as a young player and the players that have gone before him.
"You try to add to the legacy. As a player you try and add another bit of history to the jersey and every time I go out in it, it’s about trying to do that and put the jersey in a better position for whoever’s going to come along next."