GREIG Laidlaw’s move to the Aviva Premiership could boost the Scottish game, according to national coach Scott Johnson, by freeing up more opportunities for young scrum-halves coming through.
The 28-year-old has signed a contract with Gloucester that will see him leave the Scottish capital in the summer and play throughout the build-up to the 2015 World Cup in the English Premiership. He may also be back in the No 10 jersey with Gloucester’s director of rugby Nigel Davies revealing that Laidlaw’s ability to cover the departure of fly-half Freddie Burns was a factor in his signing.
Johnson is unperturbed and, while admitting he would like to see as many Scotland internationalists at Edinburgh and Glasgow as possible, acknowledged that with many considering their futures during this Six Nations period he was just glad that a key figure in the camp had his settled. “I’m glad he’s got it resolved for his own peace of mind and he can go off and be a great addition to Gloucester,” he said. “And with the ten [stand-off] thing, it’s a funny thing, but as long as he keeps his core skills good, and he needs to practice them, it doesn’t worry me.
“Everyone has a view of a certain player when they come in and that might change. The intention may be to do X and they end up doing Y. X and Y [scrum-half and stand-off] is good for Greig. He’s got deft touches and subtle touches and allows us to play the game in a different way. He’s competitive enough as long as the core skills are worked on.”
Asked whether he might have done more, in his other role as director of rugby, to persuade the SRU to pay more to keep him – Gloucester are believed to have come close to doubling his salary – Johnson replied: “We’re trying to be fair to the system and Greig.
“Sometimes you see players come through and they need different things. Greig’s an aspirant coach and I think he’ll be wonderful coach for Scotland in the next period, and I’m all for players seeing different ideas and developing as players and as future coaches, seeing how other things are done. We’re pretty strong on the ground with young nines coming through, certainly at Edinburgh, and so for World Cup and training it’s probably a downside, but I see a lot of positives in this for Greig and Edinburgh. That’s not a negative to him, but we’ve only got two professional teams and that’s a factor.”
The problems of the Scottish system have been underlined for Johnson this season with stand-off Tommy Allan turning his back on Scotland after progressing through the youth ranks and duly throwing up fresh headaches in the colours of Italy 11 days ago. Allan saw what all youngsters see when they emerge from the youth ranks in Scotland, a blockage between the ages of 18 and 22, with several contenders ahead in the queue merely for professional game-time. He took up an offer to join Perpignan instead which came with the interest of his native Italy.
Laidlaw knows about competition, having spent several years behind Mike Blair and Rory Lawson in the queue at Edinburgh before Lawson’s departure – himself frustrated at the lack of game-time – opened the door to the Borderer to prove that he was an international-in-waiting.
Edinburgh now have four more who, potentially, could be as good as Laidlaw in Grayson Hart (aged 25), Sean Kennedy, Alex Black (both 22) and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne (20), yet none will have the chance to develop into Test performers without significantly more time at pro level.
Laidlaw is also confident that while opening the door to those players, he will improve further testing himself against some of the best players in the world in the Premiership. He said: “I’d like to thank everyone involved in Edinburgh Rugby for their support over seven fantastic seasons at Murrayfield. I’ve taken great pride from playing and captaining the team in some memorable matches, something which I’ll never forget. At this stage of my career, this is a fantastic opportunity and challenge for me. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time with Edinburgh to date, but this is a chance for me to test myself in a completely new environment.
“Gloucester impressed me from the off – the stadium, the training facilities, the heritage and history of the club. A number of my Scotland team-mates have played for Gloucester and they had nothing but good things to say about the club. When Nigel [Davies] outlined his plans and ambitions for the future, it became a very easy decision. He and everyone there want to see Gloucester competing at the very top of the club game and that’s something I very much look forward to being part of.”