Outsider Greig Laidlaw knocking hard on World Cup door

AMONG a small clutch of intriguing selection dilemmas facing Andy Robinson and the Scotland coaches over the next fortnight is that around the scrum-half area.

With the quality of proven internationalists Rory Lawson, Mike Blair and Chris Cusiter involved in the race for three slots for Scotland's final 30-man World Cup squad, it might appear cut and dried. However, only Lawson of that trio has been playing regularly over the past year and remained free from injury.

Scotland supporters will be pleased to note that Cusiter is back in full training now, after a knee injury limited him to just six games, three for Glasgow and three for Southern Districts, and no Tests since featuring for Scotland in March, 2010. The 29-year-old is now desperate to win a place in the side against Ireland a week on Saturday.

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Blair, meanwhile, has been nursing an ankle injury that flared up last season and had to take a lighter part in pre-season. There are few players in the training squad not carrying some degree of injury, especially after a first full-blooded contact of the season this week, but therein lie the gambles for a coach, and the opportunities for others.

One pushing strongly is Greig Laidlaw, the scrum-half who filled in at stand-off latterly for Edinburgh with such aplomb that even Robinson was impressed. Laidlaw brought his innate rugby nous to the position and blended good passing and kicking skills as Edinburgh picked up from a poor first half of the season.

The tireless Borderer has the same kind of courageous, battling attitude in the face of adversity displayed by his uncle Roy and another Jethart hero, Gary Armstrong, which is something Robinson is known to cherish in a player.

But what kind of blend will Robinson want in his scrum-half group, for World Cup ties against Romania, Georgia, Argentina and England? That question will only be answered on 22 August when Robinson names his final 30.

Laidlaw is a grounded lad and is acutely aware that, with just one cap, off the bench against the All Blacks in November, the 'baby' scrum-half at 25 - Lawson and Blair are both 30 - has his work cut out, but he has apparently impressed in pre-season and now has his sights firmly on the warm-up games with Ireland and Italy in a final push for recognition.

"I'm feeling good," he said this week, despite nursing a dead leg. "I've really enjoyed the training and I feel as though I've gone well so far. I picked up a slight knock on Monday, which wasn't the best, but it's fine.

"Everybody's thinking about it (World Cup selection], so there's no point in lying or hiding away from it. The coaches are saying they're having selection meetings every day, and you're thinking about it every day. Well I am anyway, don't know about everyone else.

"If they believe I'm better then they're more likely to take me, and I'm trying to prove I am, but the other three will be trying to do the same up against me, so it's a sort of vicious circle that we're all in. But it's enjoyable. We've had a lot of skills-based training which I like, and a lot of running - 50 100m runs was pretty brutal - trying to get fitter and stronger just as every other country will be doing."

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While his versatility may have helped him get to this point, Laidlaw believes it is his ability as a scrum-half that will determine the next step. "I enjoyed the challenge at the time. Playing a lot of my youth rugby there (at stand-off] helped me both as a nine and a ten and it's something I'm keen to go forward with, but at the minute I'm primarily a scrum-half and that's what I want to get into the World Cup as.

"I'm guessing they're seeing me as a nine first and foremost. We'll probably find out in the next week as the team for the Ireland game is decided."

Naturally, there will only be two scrum-halves involved in each warm-up, but both will have a test nature around them as opposed to a full-on Test approach. Ireland are expected to be missing the Munster and Leinster players involved in end-of-season Heineken Cup and Magners League finals at Murrayfield, but they have four warm-ups and more time to hone the team than does Robinson with just two.

Laidlaw faces tough competition with Cusiter, Blair - two British and Irish Lions - and Lawson, who, on their day, are world-class and have proven themselves with key roles in historic Scotland victories. But do not discount Laidlaw, the latest product from a Scottish scrum-half factory that keeps on giving.