Laidlaw says pro rugby must be open to young Scots

Greig Laidlaw: 'tight-knit' squad. Picture: Greg Macvean
Greig Laidlaw: 'tight-knit' squad. Picture: Greg Macvean
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EDINBURGH captain Greig Laidlaw has backed the South Africa-dominated signing policy of coach Alan Solomons, but urged both the capital team and Glasgow to leave room for players like himself to emerge from Scotland’s club ranks.

The international scrum-half is hoping to skipper his side to a third European victory of the season on Saturday when Perpignan visit Murrayfield in the Heineken Cup, and reignite flickering hopes of securing a place in the knockout stages of the tournament or the second-tier Amlin Challenge Cup.

Solomons signed his sixth player of the season from South Africa this week in centre Andries Strauss, six of whom are South Africans and most of whom played under him at the Southern Kings. It has led some supporters to question whether talented young Scots are being squeezed out at the capital club.

Laidlaw acknowledged that it could cause concern for youngsters in the Scottish game wondering where they might earn a pro chance, but stated that a balance had to be struck. After dipping into a media interview with his team-mate Willem Nel at Murrayfield, cheekily answering the question to Nel on what the South African contingent had brought to Edinburgh with the swift response of “biltong” – the South African dried beef delicacy – the captain agreed that it was vital to Scottish rugby that the door remained open to youngsters on a similar path to that which he took from Jed-Forest to pro rugby in Scotland.

“Alan feels there is a need to bring in a few people he knows and that is outwith my control,” said the Borderer candidly. “I came through the system and was very grateful for that, and we need to be careful where we are going because there is a lot of good young talent in Scotland that can’t [at present] come through. It’s not that they won’t come through; they can as I did. Their time will come. I am sure it will.

“The academy system is getting sorted out and if that can be improved in the future they may not look to bring in as many [overseas players] in the future. At the minute that is what is happening and we cannot control that. We can just control what happens on the field and that is what I am here to do.”

Solomons was forced into swift moves last month when he lost his third stand-off to injury, Harry Leonard following two promising young Scottish-qualified stand-offs Gregor Hunter and Piers Francis into the treatment room.

He called up his former Southern Kings player Tony Fenner and South African Carl Bezuidenhout on trials.

Laidlaw believes that that has added strength to the squad at a time when it was looking weak in a key position. The squad boasts 16 Scotland internationalists among 43 players currently eligible for Scotland, and Laidlaw agreed that strengthening the side was paramount after last season’s poor campaign.

Solomons has also stated to the squad and publicly that his signing of players from South Africa is merely the first part of a rebuilding process he wishes to end inside three years with a strong mainly Scottish team competing for titles.

Laidlaw stressed that there was no division in the squad.

“Everybody is just part of Edinburgh rugby,” he added, with a shrug.

“It does not matter where anybody is from. They come into the squad and get welcomed in because we need to be a tight-knit squad to go forward. There are foreigners in every squad all over the world and Edinburgh is no exception. We are all one here.

“With there being only two Scottish based teams it is very important to have as many Scottish boys playing as possible and there is in the Edinburgh team – Dicko [Al Dickinson], [Ross] Fordy, Matt Scott coming back fit, Nick De Luca, myself and Greig Tonks. There is a lot of us in there with good South Africans like Willem, and Cornell [du Preez] has turned out to be a great signing for us.

“Alan has brought in a couple of players he knows from his background which is understandable and it is good to see what these guys are about. You can learn from Willem and Cornell who have different experiences and if you use them in the right way they can help you become a better player also.”