SCOTLAND scrum-half Greig Laidlaw is hoping his days of filling in at stand-off are over as he targets becoming the nation’s long-term number nine.
The Edinburgh half-back was handed the jersey vacated by record-breaking scrum-half Mike Blair after his retirement just before the start of this year’s RBS 6 Nations.
He started in the 38-18 defeat to England at Twickenham in their tournament opener, but his display was one of many encouraging signs for interim head coach Scott Johnson.
Picking a replacement for the 85-time capped Blair was the first of many issues Johnson had to resolve ahead of naming his team for the Calcutta Cup clash, and his eventual decision was to move Edinburgh’s Laidlaw back from fly-half, where he had been operating on a part-time basis for club and country, to his natural position.
He seems content with the results, having confirmed the 27-year-old will remain there for this Saturday’s meeting with Italy - a decision which has gone down well with a player determined to make the role his own.
Laidlaw told Press Association Sport: “I enjoyed being back at nine. I was pretty comfortable in there. I’ve held on to my place and hopefully I can build on that this week, keep the jersey for longer, and get that win that we desperately want.
“I’d now say scrum-half is my out-and-out position. First and foremost, I want to play as a nine.
“I’d fill in elsewhere if required, I won’t shy away from that, but nine is my preferred position.”
Despite a positive display in London, Laidlaw was left frustrated as all too often his attempts to retrieve the ball from the breakdown were hampered by a physical England pack which won almost twice as many rucks and mauls as the visitors.
When he was able to dig the ball clear, he was ably assisted by a running trio of Sean Maitland, Stuart Hogg and Tim Visser, who proved they have the legs to threaten if the space is cleared early enough.
Laidlaw said: “There were parts of the game in London that were encouraging and parts that we need to improve on.
“We realise what they are and that is what we have been working on in training this week. The training will come through in the game and hopefully give us the result we want.
“We let England get on the front foot in the pack and we struggled to defend from there and if you let anyone do that, it’s a hard day at the office.
“They gained momentum through that and that is one of the areas we have been working on.”
Johnson was brutally honest in his post-match assessment from the bruising defeat to the Auld Enemy, which saw Alasdair Strokosch go off with a damaged eye socket and hooker Dougie Hall sustain a knee injury.
The coach claimed Scotland had “lost the battle” because their forwards had been “poor” in the contact zones.
Laidlaw agrees but insists he and his team-mates are determined to put that right against the Azzurri.
“The coach doesn’t mince his words, so we duly got told after the game where he wants us to go,” he said.
“But we are not shying away from that. It’s exactly what we need to work on, we know that ourselves.
“If we do that, I believe we will put ourselves in a position to win Test matches.”