GREIG Laidlaw has been a mainstay of the Scottish professional game for the best part of a decade, so it was something of a surprise when it was revealed last week that he had agreed a deal to join Gloucester in time for next season.
Speaking yesterday about the move for the first time, the Edinburgh captain disputed an assertion that his decision to move south had weighed heavily on him during the Six Nations Championship, and denied that the switch was an indictment of Edinburgh’s new coaching regime’s squad renovation.
The 28-year-old scrum-half, who will pair up again with Duncan Weir for Scotland in Cardiff on Saturday, is considered one of Edinburgh’s lnch-pins, whether at scrum-half or stand-off, and has been a popular captain under several coaches. However, he will be playing in the Aviva Premiership next season in the lead-up to the 2015 Rugby World Cup – where Scotland open their campaign at his new ground, Kingsholm.
Laidlaw insisted, however, that his decision was not motivated by any concern over coach Alan Solomons’ recruitment of so many South African players.
“It is nothing to do with that at all,” he stated. “My contract was up and I am 28. If I stay until I’m 31 I would struggle to go anywhere else. The time was right.
“But the deal has been done for a while and I knew before the Six Nations what was going to happen so I have not had ‘that weight’ on my shoulders. I was delighted to secure my future with Gloucester but my only focus is to play well for Scotland this weekend.”
The Scotsman understands that Laidlaw was offered the same deal he has been playing on for the past three years in the capital, while he could double his salary at Gloucester in what could prove to be his final playing contract. He also has an eye on staying in the game as a coach and agreed that that was part of his thought process, notably in following former Scotland scrum-half and captain Bryan Redpath in learning the ropes south of the border.
“That was in my thought process. It is dangerous as a player if you want to get into coaching if you are in the one set-up the whole of your career. It is great to see how people do things.
“The Premiership is a great competition and I think I can learn a lot as a player and, looking further down the track, I do have aspirations to coach later in my career. To be involved in different set-ups can only help.
“But I felt that the time was right to take on a new challenge,” he said. “There are good young players at Edinburgh who will come through.”
Of that there is little doubt, but there remains concern that Laidlaw will leave a hole both in terms of overall play and leadership that will be difficult to fill in the capital. The fact that Gloucester coach Nigel Davies is keen for him to play at both ten and nine for his new club may also be a concern for Scotland, who now view the experienced performer as a nine, but Laidlaw shrugged that off and said that it would only help to sharpen his skills in both roles. He expects to play often at scrum-half, however. Laidlaw’s popularity in Scotland remains as strong as ever. He recently pipped the Grand National-winning jockey Ryan Mania from Galashiels for the Inspirational Sporting Performance title at the Borders Sport and Leisure’s Celebration of Sport awards, after a public vote that attracted thousands of entries and placed the Scotland star higher than a racing hero who helped to swell the coffers of many in his native Galashiels.
“I was surprised by that, I have to say,” Laidlaw admitted, “because Ryan obviously had an amazing achievement, and I expected him to win it. But I was told it was a public vote and I guess it shows the following that there is for rugby and the Scotland team in the Borders.”
That, clearly, will only swell this weekend if Laidlaw can help to steer the national side to a winning finish to what has been another rollercoaster ride of a Six Nations, and the goal-kicking scrum-half insisted that the players were desperate to finish on a high and banish the memory of the one that got away last time out against France.
“That was a tough one to take and we need to use that upset to put in a good performance this weekend,” Laidlaw added. “We are going out there to win and play well.
“When you don’t win it is harder to take, but on the whole we were pleased with most of our performance against France. When we analyse it there are definitely a couple of things we could do better, and Scott [Johnson, head coach] used the word ‘naive’ and when we look back on that performance a couple of things were naive.
“But we’re looking forward to this game and the chance to finish well.
“It [the Millennium Stadium] is a great place to play rugby, one of the best stadia in the world, and, personally, I just want to go down there to avenge the French defeat.”