Laidlaw talks sevens, New Zealand and Scotland
With Scotland 7s drawn against New Zealand in a Pool A match in Hamilton at this weekend’s HSBC World Sevens Series, we spoke to the Kiwis’ Head Coach Clark Laidlaw about meeting some familiar faces, his Scottish heritage and the form of Scotland 7s.
His is a family with no shortage of rugby pedigree, which is just as well given Laidlaw’s role on the staff of the world’s most prestigious rugby brand.
The All Blacks 7s Head Coach is the son of 1984 Grand Slam winner Roy and his cousin Greig has just retired from international duty as Scotland’s second-highest points scorer of all time.
Laidlaw has been in his current job since 2017 when he took over from legendary figure Sir Gordon Tietjens, a man who led New Zealand to unprecedented success in rugby’s shorter format, including two Rugby World Cup Sevens and an enormity of series triumphs along the way.
Not to be outdone, the Jedburgh native enjoyed a stellar start to his All Blacks 7s career, coaching the team to another World Cup Sevens success in 2018 in San Francisco and winning the latest leg of the HSBC World Sevens series in Cape Town last December to sit joint-top of the current standings.
The here and now presents an opportunity for Laidlaw’s squad to compete in a home leg of the World Sevens Series this weekend in Hamilton on New Zealand’s North Island. Drawn alongside Scotland in Pool A, the teams will meet in the early hours of Sunday morning (GMT).
Extra intrigue surrounds the tie given Laidlaw and his Scottish counterpart, Ciaran Beattie, played together at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. Scotland just failed to emerge from the pool stages 14 years ago but the competition holds good memories for Clark.
He added: “We had strong group of players then, including Sean [Lamont, now Scotland 7s Strength & Conditioning Coach and Team Manager]. I remember losing a late try to Canada which meant we couldn’t progress to the latter stages; we didn’t quite get it right that year.
“It was a shame because as a squad we performed really well after the Games, but that’s the nature of these kind of tournaments.
“Ciaran is a wee bit younger than me but I remember him as a typical Borders half-back – speedy, skilful and full of tenacity. It’s cool to see him and Sean on the circuit now as coaches too and catch up off the pitch about the times we shared on it.”
Laidlaw has been impressed with Scotland under Beattie, and reckons they are a match for any side on their day, saying: “They’ve got a lot of heart, a lot of ticker and seem to be more direct now, really taking teams on.
“A few of their guys appear to have changed positions and that seems to be serving them well, with guys like Sam Pecqueur and Femi Sofolarin making us take notice as opponents.
“We know the challenges Scotland will present and we’ll certainly be prepared. They’re a team that can reach the latter stages in any tournament and did well against us in Cape Town.”
Also competing in Pool A in Hamilton are USA and Wales, with group winners progressing to the semi-final stage and teams ranked second to fourth going straight into play-off fixtures to determine the final placings of sides finishing fifth to sixteenth.
With a home leg beckoning, Laidlaw is appreciative of the logistical benefits of hosting. He said: “There’s no travel or adjusting to time zones and we were able to have a nice break over Christmas and New Year with our families.
“As a Scotsman, I never got the chance to play a leg of this series in my home country as we didn’t have them in Edinburgh or Glasgow then, but I’m aware of how unique it is and the importance of trying to put on a good show in front of your own supporters.”
In an Olympic year, Laidlaw knows that all roads lead to Tokyo in the summer.
He added: “We’ve started the series well but the important thing is keeping that momentum so that come July, we’re fit and healthy.
“It’s a special year because of the big tournament at the end of our season in Japan but of course every team is focused on performing as well as they can on the circuit in the lead-up to the Games.”
“Coaching New Zealand 7s brings with it a feeling of expectation and togetherness and with those Olympics not far away, there’s a great opportunity for all of us over the coming months.”
Image credit: Mike Lee - KLC Fotos for World Rugby