GRAND Slam hero Roy Laidlaw, who was a member of Scotland’s first Rugby World Cup squad in 1987, has expressed his concern about the number of warm-up matches the current crop of players are set to play ahead of the big event later this year.
The 46-man extended squad selected by head coach Vern Cotter will meet up for their first training camp on Monday with nearly 100 days to go until Scotland’s Pool B opener against Japan on 23 September.
I’m surprised that we are having four warm-up games. Two would be enoughRoy Laidlaw
After various camps throughout the summer, Scotland’s warm-up schedule features matches against Ireland (away, 15 August), Italy (away, 22 August), Italy (home, 29 August) and France (away, 5 September).
And while Laidlaw – who earned 47 caps at scrum-half between 1980 and 1988 and was a British & Irish Lion in 1983 – is happy that the squad are going to be together for a long time to prepare, he believes four warm-up matches against other international outfits is too many.
“I’m surprised that we are having four warm-up games as there is risk of injury and I think two would be enough,” he said.
“There is a limit to how much you can get out of warm-up games and it would be devastating if we lost one or two of our good players at that time.”
Of course things have changed a lot since Laidlaw and co headed to the 1987 event in New Zealand with the game going professional.
However, having been hit with injuries early in that tournament 28 years ago themselves, he would be gutted if this year’s squad had the same troubles.
He said: “It was unfortunate that Scott Hastings pulled his hamstring in the first training session and John Rutherford got injured too, but we managed to draw with France in our first game and just because of points difference we ended up playing New Zealand in the quarter-finals as opposed to Fiji.
“We would have beaten Fiji then, but we couldn’t beat the All Blacks. I loved the experience at the time, but we always thought we could have maybe done a bit better.
“Although it was nearly 30 years ago I think at the time professionalism wasn’t actually that far away, you could see that players from abroad were advertising products and they were doing more rugby than a ‘normal’ job.
“For us it was still work then rugby, so the countries like New Zealand and France were miles ahead in terms of preparation.”
Laidlaw was speaking at a sun-kissed Lothian Park in Jedburgh yesterday as the five-day Rugby World Cup Trophy tour of Scotland began.
As well as the Webb Ellis Cup being on display – it heads to North Berwick and Edinburgh today – Laidlaw was joined by Will Greenwood, who won the event with England 12 years ago, and Scots legends Finlay Calder, Gary Armstrong and Chris Paterson.
Hundreds of local youngsters were also at the home of Jed Thistle playing in a rugby festival and it certainly put a smile on Laidlaw’s face seeing everyone enjoying themselves.
Laidlaw’s nephew, Greig, is the current Scotland captain – so how does the 61-year-old think Scotland will do when the World Cup does finally come round?
“I still think we will reach the quarters, there are some exciting young players and the way the backs are trying to play now feels a lot better for me.
“However, we don’t have strength in depth and that could be our Achilles heel, while we lack a bit of physicality and I think we need a couple more of our back-rows to be a bit more creative,” added Laidlaw, the scrum-half when Scotland won the Grand Slam in 1984.
Greenwood, meanwhile, believes that Scotland will reach the last eight too and will come up against England at that stage.
That would mean Scotland finishing runners-up in Pool B and England topping Pool A. Greenwood, 42, said: “With South Africa in the pool people have to understand that it will be tough for Scotland, but they are second favourite and it would be a devastating result if they don’t beat Samoa.
“If you were asking me for my prediction I think Scotland are going to play England in the quarter-finals at Twickenham.
“If the World Cup was being played on Mars then there might be a different outcome to Pool A with England, Australia and Wales competing for top spot, but with home advantage I think England will win the pool and set up this match.”
As a former centre, Greenwood hopes that Scotland’s first choice pairing in that position – Alex Dunbar and Mark Bennett – can both win their respective races to be fit.
“There was a time a few years back when I could not name the Scottish backline because I wasn’t sure who was in, who was out and such like,” he said.
“There was a lot of inconsistency in selection, but now I am going ‘wow, that is a heck of a backline’.
“I hope that Dunbar and Bennett are there, while you have got Tommy Seymour, Stuart Hogg, Finn Russell, Henry Pyrgos and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne who all impress me.
“Rugby is changing all of the time: when we won the World Cup in 2003 it was because we were the best defensive team around.
“You only have to have watched the last round of matches in the Six Nations to see that attack is now the way to go and I think that suits Scotland’s style.”