Greig Laidlaw will arrive at a couple of milestones with pride on Sunday but made it clear any personal accolades will ring hollow if they are not accompanied by a Scotland win over France.
In a neat piece of symmetry, the scrum-half will earn his 50th cap on the same afternoon he draws level with the record 25 appearances as captain, which is held exclusively for just a few more days by Grand Slam legend David Sole.
When Laidlaw first led the national team out against South Africa in Nelspruit in the summer of 2013 he could not have known the emotional rollercoaster ahead in the coming years but it remains a job he relishes and, after a fair few lows in his time at the helm, is hopeful that many brighter days lie ahead – starting at BT Murrayfield on Sunday.
“When I step away from the game I will think about it more. Right now I would swap my 50th cap for a win at the weekend if I was given that choice,” he said at yesterday’s media conference. “But if I can get my 50th cap and we can win that would be even better. I am excited, looking forward to it, as I am whenever I pull on the jersey.”
Looking back on his near three-year tenure, which has included dispiriting defeats in the Six Nations and last-gasp heartbreak in last year’s Rugby World Cup quarter-final, he admitted it has often been challenging.
“It has been enjoyable, tough at times as well,” he reflected. “All you can do is try and affect what is in front of you. You will never get back what has happened so you are always learning as a captain, as a player and I just want to win as many games as I can in the Scotland jersey in my career.”
Laidlaw, who must have been the happiest and most relieved man in Rome a week past Saturday when Scotland finally ended their agonising run of nine straight Six Nations defeats with a 36-20 win over Italy, feels he has grown into the captaincy.
“It is fair to say I am more comfortable in the role now,” he said. “I feel I have got the respect of the dressing room now and have developed my relationship with the coaches over a bit of time. Obviously a new coaching team came and they wanted to make sure I was the right captain.”
Laidlaw moved second in the skippers’ list last year when he passed Gavin Hastings’ tally of 20 and he added: “For me to be in the same category [as Sole and Hastings] is a huge honour. They were my idols when I was growing up. They had a bit of success in a Scotland jersey and I’d like to emulate that.”
The skipper is well aware that the spirit-lifting victory in Italy will count for little if Scotland slump again in their final two games of the Six Nations and a long-awaited victory in front of the home crowd is the next aim.
“The win in Rome was brilliant, but we’ve got to park that now and take another step forward,” insisted the 30-year-old from Jedburgh. “Don’t relax and say ‘finally we’ve beaten Italy, we’ve won a game’. That’s not good enough. We’ve got to go and win another game now.
“We’re coming back to Murrayfield now and the expectation is we need to win.”
This is not viewed as a vintage French team but the Scots can be nothing but wary against opponents they haven’t bested in ten long years.
“We look at France. We will know the enemy inside out by the time we come to the game,” said Laidlaw. “We’re not going to over emphasise that because we need to worry about ourselves a fair bit, but we need to understand who we are playing against – the players, their traits.”
Coach Vern Cotter’s immersion in French rugby culture can only be a benefit when it comes to this and Laidlaw said: “He’s very useful. He clearly knows a lot of their players. He knows [new France coach] Guy Noves from coaching against him. Some of the Clermont boys are still involved, so the info he can pass across is invaluable.”
Noves has had a turbulent relationship with Scotland’s national stadium, winning the Heineken Cup with his Toulouse side in 2005 but missing the trophy presentation when police escorted him from the pitch when he tried to get into the crowd. Seven years later, Laidlaw led the Edinburgh team that stunned the French giants in the quarter-finals of the same competition.
“He probably has split emotions about BT Murrayfield,” noted Laidlaw. “He won the Heineken Cup here, and he got arrested. So there you go – mixed emotions.
“It will probably be at the back of his mind that he has been beaten here before. He was probably beaten by an Edinburgh team he thought he was going to beat with a strong Toulouse team. But that’s probably a question for him rather than me.”