All eyes on Greig Laidlaw as Scotland’s scrum-half battle intensifies

Scotland will gain leadership and more control to their game as a “given” with the return of Greig Laidlaw as scrum-half and skipper, but assistant coach Mike Blair says the 33-year-old, who wins his 72nd cap today, has work to do to reclaim that No 9 jersey for the World Cup.

Greig Laidlaw in training at Murrayfield as Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend watches on. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS
Greig Laidlaw in training at Murrayfield as Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend watches on. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS

Laidlaw has attracted as much criticism for what is seen as slow delivery at times as he has praise for his undoubted game management, goalkicking and calm yet rousing leadership.

Skills coach Blair, who holds the national record for caps as a scrum-half with 85, believes that his former Edinburgh team-mate will add some ballast this afternoon as France visit BT Murrayfield a week after they shellacked the Scots 32-3 in Nice.

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“Scrum-half is going to be a really difficult position to nail down because we’ve got three fantastic players there,” said Blair, referring to Laidlaw’s battle with the Glasgow pair of Ali Price and George Horne.

“This is Greig’s opportunity to show what he can do again. He’s had some feedback on certain parts of his game we want to improve. We’re very aware of what he does really well. He’s a real competitor and he’s worked hard at those parts of his game. The leadership side of things and control he brings is a given.”

Blair has known the Jedburgh man, who now plays for Clermont-Auvergne in France, since he was a youngster and is fully aware of what the experienced campaigner will bring today as he teams up again with Racing 92 stand-off Finn Russell at half-back.

“He did a lot of his learning prior to getting his Edinburgh contract in the club game. With that it means he had that maturity already,” said Blair.

“He’s a very astute tactical brain. There are parts of his game we want to speed up as well, but the control element when things aren’t going so well, the players look to him for his feedback and leadership.”

As for Laidlaw himself, he watched with the same dismay as any Scotland supporter last weekend and is fired up to put things right today.

“We learned we cant be soft defensively, especially against a team like France who have world-class attackers within their ranks, as I know well from playing out in France,” he said. “We need to be defensively really sound. We come back to the basics of the game, being really aggressive, holding 
each other accountable and defending properly.”

Laidlaw said he didn’t feel any added pressure as he resumes the skipper’s role he has performed many times.

“Not at all, there is always pressure paying for Scotland, it is a big thing, a privilege,” he said. “There is a bit of pressure but we need to cope with that internally and come back to the basics of the game.”

One criticism levelled at this Scotland squad has been a seeming inability to evolve to a Plan B when things start going awry, something which Laidlaw has been able to instill at times down his Test career.

“It’s a balance you need to strike, the way I try to captain the team I will lean a lot on other players as well and bring the best out,” added the scrum-half, who will also take on goalkicking duties today.

“It can’t be just on one person and it won’t be. Finn [Russell] has been really good this week, he will lead the attack and we will have a defence leader. We need to get a feel for that as a group, what is going well, what is not going well and do we need to change.”

Laidlaw knows the French well and believes the addition of former captain Fabien Galthié, who will replace Jacques Brunel after the World Cup, has injected France with some momentum.

“They are a very good team, I knew they would be good last weekend for a couple of very good reasons, They had changed their coaches, I don’t think that has been highlighted as much but from what I believe, their coaching has changed a fair bit behind the scenes,” said Laidlaw.

“Secondly, the team they have picked is really dangerous whether that is [Alivereti] Raka [who opened the scoring early on debut in Nice] on one wing or Damian Penaud on the other.

“In my opinion, [stand-off] Camille Lopez is the best 10 in France, playing with him at Clermont, he gives them a bit more stability in their attack

“ I knew they would be good [in Nice] and they have a similar team [today], an excellent challenge for us.”