Laidlaw set for Japan
The burning desire to continue to challenge himself and improve as a player and a person will see former Scotland scrum-half and captain, Greig Laidlaw, set out for Japan at the end of September, to begin the next chapter in his rugby career.
Laidlaw’s renowned game-management and leadership have extricated Scotland from a hole on numerous occasions over the years.
“One thinks of Newcastle (the New South Wales and Tyneside versions) with heroics to see off Australia and Samoa; last-gasp, nerveless kicking accuracy to win against Italy (whether in Pretoria or in Rome) and the sheer undiluted fervour as he put Ireland to the sword at BT Murrayfield.
Little wonder, those qualities attracted the NTT Shining Arcs, one of the 16 teams in Japan’s Top League, to unveil the 76-times-capped Laidlaw as a new recruit earlier this summer.
Shining Arcs, won promotion to the Top League in 2010-11 but their ambition is to become a top four side and that sits nicely with Laidlaw’s innate competitiveness.
Speaking to scottishrugby.org, he said “I’ve always tried to push myself, outside my comfort zones. It’s about making myself a better player and a better person and experiencing new cultures both on and off the rugby field.”
Some might look at what Laidlaw has achieved since he graduated via Jed Thistle and that prolific scrum-half nursery, Jed-Forest (which reared his uncle Roy Laidlaw and Gary Armstrong).
He progressed to the game’s highest heights – a pro-contract with Edinburgh Rugby, a key figure for Scotland 7s, stints at Gloucester and Clermont, a British & Irish Lion in 2017 and a proven match-winner for Scotland, for whom he harvested 714 points and captained the side on a record 39 occasions.
So why at the age of 34 head to the Far East?
Laidlaw clearly loves his job and he’s not yet ready to don the carpet slippers and snuggle down into a rocking chair.
“There are different markets emerging and things are changing,” he said. “My eyes were open to ideas and new challenges and playing in Japan is a great opportunity to experience something different at this stage of my rugby career and with the age of my kids.”
His boys, six-year-old Ruary and Rocco, who will turn four by the time the competition is underway in Japan, and wife Rachel, plan to head out to Japan in December.
By which point, Laidlaw will have settled into life in a furnished apartment in Ichikawa, 20 kilometres from the centre of Tokyo and home to the Shining Arcs.
He has already seen the club’s facilities close at hand as, by chance, Scotland trained there during last year’s Rugby World Cup.
He is impressed by the professionalism of the club and plans to use the knowledge he gleaned in France to assist with his acclimatisation to an altogether different culture in Japan.
“You have to learn the language and as long as you try to do that and embrace the culture, I found in Clermont that people will accept you.
“Asking questions, and not being scared to feel stupid, was one of the biggest things for me, whether during formal lessons that the club put on, or just when speaking to other players and coaches.
“So, learning some Japanese will be important.
“I’ve always been competitive, and I want to be successful in Japan. Speaking to the General Manager at the club he tells me Shining Arcs have finished fifth in the last few times in the league and they really want to push on into the top four.”
Laidlaw is grateful to his agent, Rowen Shepherd, the former Scotland full-back, for all his support and guidance and firmly believes his education will continue in Japan, both on and off the pitch.
“Coaching is one of the routes I’m looking to go into when I stop playing. NTT, who own Shining Arcs, are a massive company with a big global presence. NTT are hugely passionate about their rugby and really proud about their company and what they have achieved.
“I think they see rugby players as big ambassadors for their business.”
In readiness then for his departure to Japan, Laidlaw is working hard on his fitness. He’s training on his own just now but when the return to play guidelines permit and when it’s safe to do so he might “get a little bit involved at Jedforest,” including coaching some scrum-halves and stand-offs. The Super 6 Southern Knights might also be visited en route.
Laidlaw seems well-equipped for life in Japan. Ichikawa even boasts “plenty of green space”, in contrast to what can seem the concrete jungle claustrophobia of central Tokyo.
His sense of humour is intact, too, promising that among his first purchases for his sons on arrival in Japan will be a season pass for Tokyo Disneyland, which just so happens to be near Ichikawa!