Laidlaw hopes mirror image of '86 produces Six Nations result

THERE is a saying we hear a lot in Scottish rugby: 'Everything is cyclical'.

The more prosaic among us might prefer to believe that there are identifiable reasons why one team wins and another does not; why one nation waits for ten years to claim a title and another just two or three. But, in following this season's exciting Scottish campaign, it will not have escaped the attention of Scotsman readers that we are reliving the campaign of exactly 20 years ago.

We have mirrored that tournament through this one and if fate plays a hand, if there is indeed a mystical nature around this championship, the omens are good. The tournament opened with an unexpected win over France at Murrayfield, followed by an agonising loss to Wales that many felt unfair as two David Sole 'tries' were disallowed by a referee who admitted he couldn't see either incident. Paul Thorburn's record 70-yard penalty kick was the bizarre, unpredicted aspect of 1986 to rival the red card which cost Scotland victory in Cardiff this year.

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In 1986, the team regrouped after that most unfortunate defeat in Cardiff, and stunned England at Murrayfield in the next match. Next up, of course, was Ireland in Dublin. Grand Slam and Triple Crown hopes had been dashed in Cardiff, but there was still a chance to share the title.

Roy Laidlaw recalls the 1986 trip, having already made his own little bit of history when he scored twice in the same corner at Lansdowne Road as he helped Scotland to the Grand Slam two years before. Had it not been for the Welsh defeat, Scotland would have secured a remarkable second clean sweep in two years, and Laidlaw recalled: "We were very close to doing it again, though it was a changing team.

"In 1986, we had the old fellas like me hanging in there with the influx of youngsters coming in like the Hastings brothers and David Sole, but we shared the same desire.

"When you think about that season, it started with Gavin's first kick going into touch and Pierre Berbizier scoring a try, so it wasn't the best of starts, but we played well against Wales, didn't get the result, the performance against England was outstanding - still a record win now - and we ended with a good victory over Ireland."

Laidlaw is quick to admit, however, that his run of victories over Ireland was unusual. In fact, his record against Ireland altogether was quite bizarre. He had scored two tries in the corner of the ground playing for Scotland B, which earned him the call-up to the senior team for his debut, against Ireland, in 1980, and returned to help clinch the 1984 Grand Slam with the two tries which sparked Scots to dub the area 'Laidlaw's Corner'.

He also scored against Ireland in the 1986 game, albeit at the other end of the field, and, in fact, six of his seven Test tries were against the Irish. He added: "My wife Joy is half-Irish so my boys could even play for them!

"Iain Milne's ability to scrum on the right-hand side allowed me to snipe on that side, and if you had a bit of speed you could outpace the flankers.

"They will probably hate me forever in Ireland, but I always got on very well with the Irish boys, touring with some of them with the Lions, and so I wish I'd been able to score as many against England and Wales.

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"But, the thing with this weekend, is that away games are different, and winning in Ireland will be very tough. We've never had a great record of winning away from home.

"A key to why we did around that period in the early to mid-80s was the settled team selection and another was Jim Telfer's decision to take us on tour to Australia and New Zealand. Beating Australia away in 1982 was followed by beating England at Twickenham in 1983, and that gave us the belief that we could do it."

Despite only making his Test debut at the age of 26, the scrum-half won 47 caps for Scotland, and was an unused substitute on ten occasions, in an international career spanning nine years. He saw many highs and lows and though now back working as an electrician, which has ruled out a return to Dublin this weekend, remains wary enough to avoid making bold predictions of a repeat of the 1986 win.

He said: "I was concerned we wouldn't get a win at all this season with England and France at home, but it's fantastic that we got those wins, because we 'll be able to feed off that in Scottish rugby for the next couple of years.

"But to go and win away from home will be very difficult. It would be nice to think the 1986 pattern will happen again, but they need to do better than they have done so far, in the set-piece particularly. You won't win games away from home just on defence because you don't have the same crowd and atmosphere behind you, keeping you going.

"Of course, if we're to stick closely to the 1986 pattern, the scrum-half will be the one scoring this weekend. Hopefully, he'll score twice and I'll not need to be wheeled out every time we visit Ireland in future!"