THE retiral of Dan Parks could have occurred before this week, but the problem was the lack of stand-offs ready to take on the challenge of leading Scotland on the international stage.
The 33-year-old was considering quitting after the World Cup, but injury to Ruaridh Jackson turned what seemed to be a rosier picture of health in the fly-half department into a worrying one once again.
Duncan Weir impressed in the Scotland ‘A’ match on Friday and Harry Leonard has an opportunity with Scotland Under-20s to take his development to the next level, but Andy Robinson has spoken of trying to introduce players to the unique pace and intensity of senior Test rugby “step-by-step”.
So, after three runs off the bench, the first at stand-off against England, he has turned to Greig Laidlaw.
A scrum-half for most of his senior career, which started when he joined the Borders academy when serving his joinery apprenticeship and moved on apace when he turned pro at Edinburgh six years ago, Laidlaw is 26.
The nephew of Roy Laidlaw, who also played a bit at stand-off to allow Jed to field Gary Armstrong, the Edinburgh skipper has grown into the dual role with his club. He faces the biggest challenge of his career now, but after being the scrum-half left behind during the World Cup he is determined to become a key part of the national team’s future, in either position.
He admitted: “I was bitterly disappointed at the time [of World Cup selection] and while it’s water under the bridge now I’ll never forget that and can use it for the rest of my career to make sure that never happens again.
“I never thought I’d be starting at number 10. Although I played a lot of my youth rugby at stand-off, I still always fancied myself as a scrum-half, more through family tradition I suppose.
“But it’s something I don’t want to shy away from. In a couple of years down the line I think it will be good for me if I can still play both positions, and keep my goal-kicking going as well.
“But I’ve been playing well and I wanted to make the step up to international level, and I was looking forward to taking my chance. Now, the first thing I need to do is what I do for Edinburgh, because that’s what put me in this position in the first place.”
Andy Robinson explained that he had considered pairing Laidlaw with his club teammate Mike Blair at half-back, but felt that would go against his pledge to give players a run of games after the World Cup and not chop and change as he did during the tournament in New Zealand, so Cusiter remains.
There may not be the same intuitiveness or ability to switch between scrum-half and stand-off as he does at times with Blair, but, well aware of Cusiter’s quality, he is pleased to have the Glasgow man alongside as he strives to improve Scotland’s attack and finishing capabilities. “I don’t know if Cus will be going in at first receiver as much, which is a way me and Mike play, but I’m delighted to be playing with Cus because he’s got a great pass on him and hopefully that will allow me to get wide and into space.
“At the weekend I just felt it was a lack of composure [that cost Scotland tries]. We made a lot of line-breaks, and got through, but boys need to relax and let the passes go. All these players making these breaks score tries for their clubs. I’m pulling the strings at stand-off so it’s my job to try to put them through holes and create space for guys to create these chances.
“I like backs round about me to play in a certain way and I’ve been trying to get them to do that in training this week because come Sunday when everything’s going off round about me I’ll need these guys stepping up to help me out. I need to demand that in training so that they give it to me on Sunday in the game.
“But I don’t think we’re far away at all. We should have won against England, and obviously that was hugely disappointing. I do believe we can turn the corner and Scotland can start winning games on a regular basis.
“I believe the players are there to do that, especially now with a couple of new boys coming in, like David Denton who gets you on the front foot quite easily. Going forward I feel we can sort it out.”