Clark Laidlaw in sevens heaven with All Blacks

Gregor Townsend is not the only Scottish rugby coach earning praise from around the globe at the moment. Clark Laidlaw is too after an amazing start as head coach of the New Zealand Sevens team.
Clark Laidlaw's New Zealand celebrate after winning the World Rugby Sevens Series at Cape Town. Picture: Rodger Bosch/AFP/Getty ImagesClark Laidlaw's New Zealand celebrate after winning the World Rugby Sevens Series at Cape Town. Picture: Rodger Bosch/AFP/Getty Images
Clark Laidlaw's New Zealand celebrate after winning the World Rugby Sevens Series at Cape Town. Picture: Rodger Bosch/AFP/Getty Images

Laidlaw, the cousin of Greig and son of Roy, took up the post with the All Blacks in the abbreviated game during the summer with the aim of turning their fortunes around after they failed to win a tournament on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series in 2016/17.

It was the first time in the professional era that New Zealand Rugby had appointed a foreigner to such a post with the national team while he was taking over from the legendary Sir Gordon Tietjens.

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Under him over a 22-year spell, New Zealand teams won four Commonwealth Games gold medals, two Rugby World Cup Sevens titles and 12 World Rugby Sevens Series.

As a result the 40-year-old from Jedburgh knew he had big shoes to fill, but things have started very well in the 2017/18 World Rugby Sevens Series with a runners-up spot in Dubai followed by a win at the South Africa event in Cape Town at the weekend.

In the final they defeated Argentina 38-14 to go top of the overall standings with eight events to go.

Laidlaw said: “I am pleased for the squad to get this victory under our belts and it now sets us up nicely heading into 2018. There is a lot to work on, but I am excited to be with this group. I said when I took up the post that it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to become head coach of the All Blacks Sevens team and I’m excited and massively honoured to be coaching a team I 
have always considered very special.

“My goal is to develop a world-class programme that sees players peak at pinnacle events. Everything is going to be geared towards bringing home gold from the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

“Sevens should be a route to develop players for Super Rugby and the All Blacks, and be an important part of players’ development pathways.”

Laidlaw played sevens for Scotland for many years and in coaching terms has previously been the All Blacks Sevens skills coach and 
video analyst, the programme lead for both Taranaki and Wellington Sevens, the Hurricanes assistant coach and the assistant coach of London Irish.

The former Borders Reivers back has relocated his family to New Zealand following a stint in London and he believes once the new-look squad has some time together they will really be a force to be reckoned with.

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“We have made a lot of changes in the way the team prepares for events while there are a few new faces and we want the core group to really lead things,” Laidlaw said.

“The game of sevens has changed a lot from when I was playing, the athletes are a lot bigger and a lot more countries are putting money and backing into the game.

“You only have to look at the fact that countries like Canada and Scotland won World Series events last season to see the strength in depth of the circuit and it really is a test to get out the pool stages each week let alone win a tournament.

“People talk a lot about the fact that I am a non-Kiwi coaching the team, but I have a great affinity with New Zealand and have built up good relationships there. That combined with my passion for sevens and its ever-evolving nature should see us doing alright I hope.”

And Laidlaw has already enjoyed catching up with old friend John Dalziel, the Scotland Sevens head coach, on the circuit, stating: “I have known John since we were kids so it is great that we both have this opportunity and it is exciting to see Scotland and the new players they have involved.”

The next World Rugby Sevens Series events take place in Sydney, Australia, at the end of January and then Hamilton, New Zealand, at the start of February.

There are then six more events up to June as well as the Commonwealth Games in April and the World Cup in San Francisco in July – so watch out for Laidlaw collecting more silverware in 2018.