PLAYING in high-profile games like a European final is one of the main reasons Greig Laidlaw chose to move to the English Premiership. The irony that on Friday he will get his chance only for the opposition to be the very club he left behind in order to achieve it is certainly not lost on the Scotland captain.
Speaking yesterday ahead of the Challenge Cup final against Edinburgh at Twickenham Stoop, Laidlaw admitted: “This is the kind of game which attracted me to move to Gloucester. Ironically it is against Edinburgh which is a bit funny. But listen, regardless of what the result is on Friday, it has been the right decision for me to come to Gloucester. I’ve really enjoyed my first season down here.”
My family will be supporting Gloucester. We’re Borders peopleGreig Laidlaw
Laidlaw spent seven years with Edinburgh from 2007 to last summer and led the club to their previous best result in Europe – the Heineken Cup semi-final of 2012. That was a landmark achievement for a Scottish team but, come Friday evening, the 29-year-old scrum-half will be hellbent on preventing the historic feat of a European trophy heading back north to his homeland.
“If we do win it will be a bit of a strange feeling,” admitted Laidlaw. “But that’s the world of professional sport. I want to win things just as much as the next man and would be delighted if we do. It is a big occasion for the professional game in Scotland and that’s another reason why Edinburgh will be so pumped up. Glasgow are sitting top of the Pro12 and Edinburgh will be keen to try and win a trophy first before they do. I know how much it will mean to them but I’ll be putting my emotion to one side.”
That pragmatic instinct stretches to the Jedburgh man’s nearest and dearest, too, and Laidlaw laughed: “My family will certainly be supporting Gloucester that’s for sure. We’re Borders people anyway.”
The big talking point leading up to the game will be Laidlaw’s personal duel with the young pretender to the national No 9 jersey, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne.
The 21-year-old deputised off the bench for the skipper in all five games of this year’s Six Nations whitewash and, since returning to Edinburgh colours, has posted a series of outstanding performances. It has prompted serious suggestions that, when Scotland open their World Cup campaign at Laidlaw’s new Kingsholm home in September, the skipper could well have been deposed from the national starting XV.
“People will talk about the match-up,” conceded Laidlaw. “But you always have rivals at this level. There’s always been other players there. Sam has played really well and he will have ambitions to play for Scotland, as do I. He has come in and taken his opportunity. He is certainly pushing me and that can only be a good thing for my game. I feel I’ve played really well in Europe myself this year and I want to emulate that once again on Friday.
“It [going head to head with a national rival] can be a chance to prove a point. They’re good for people to watch and for us to play in. There has been a lot of noise made about it but I’ll concentrate on my game and playing my part for Gloucester.”
While the buzz may be around the battle of the No 9s, Laidlaw, like any good scrum-half, knows what happens immediately in front of him will determine a lot.
“Our scrum has been good but Edinburgh have a strong pack too,” he said. “They’ve grown in confidence and have a very experienced front row in Al Dickinson, Ross Ford and WP Neland and a couple of big lumps in Anton Bresler and Ben Toolis in the second row. That forward battle will be key in the game.”
Laidlaw admitted he has been doing a spot of perfectly understandable informing on his former team-mates. “Yes, I’ve tried a little bit to help out our coaching staff,” he confessed. “I know their individual players better than people down here so that’s been handy to point out a few specifics and flag up things they do in attack or what certain individuals might do.”
While the thought of reuniting with his former team in a game of such magnitude so soon after leaving would have seemed fanciful even a few months ago, Laidlaw insists he is not taken aback by Edinburgh’s purple patch. He said: “No, I wouldn’t say I’m surprised that Edinburgh have done so well of late because I know the calibre of player they have there and how [coach] Alan Solomons drives them on.”