As much as he is thrilled to return as Scotland captain this afternoon, Greig Laidlaw says that the primary satisfaction will be seeing that No 9 dark blue jersey hung up waiting for him when he goes back into the home changing room this afternoon.
Laidlaw will be winning his 64th cap against Fiji today and has grown into a crucial cog through his experience, game management and world-class goalkicking.
It hasn’t always been a smooth journey for the former Edinburgh skipper from Jedburgh, who now plays in France for Clermont Auvergne. In recent years, the 33-year-old has seen off challenges from young pretenders such as Sam Hidalgo-Clyne and admits that the competitive instinct has been a constant theme in his career.
“It does [drive me] in one sense,” he said. “But, in another, I’ve always backed myself as a player. I watch a lot of other people play rugby and try to do that. I’ve never hidden away from competition – I love the fact there is that in the Scotland team at the moment.
“Ultimately, when you walk in to the changing room and you see your Scotland jersey hanging there, that’s what I’m fighting for week in and week out because the feeling is hard to beat.
“I don’t want to give that up. It comes back to my performance time and again. I just need to keep performing, keep performing, as a leader and a player. If I do that I’ll back myself to be selected.”
The captaincy does add an extra layer of pride he admitted, though.
“I’ve said time and again that it’s a huge honour for me,” said Laidlaw. “It’s something I never take for granted. I’m just looking forward to being out there tomorrow regardless of whether or not I’m captain, but I’ve got the honour of being captain so it’s important that I do my job as well as being a rugby player and a half-back. My job is to lead the boys to the best of my ability with the help of the other leaders in the team.”
Laidlaw is well aware that the World Cup is looming and, after missing out on 2011 then captaining the side four years later, he is targeting a second appearance at the global extravaganza in Japan next year.
“It would be tremendous to be involved but there’s a massive amount of rugby to be played between now and then,” he said.
“It’s something on the horizon and, for me, it would be outstanding. It’s one of my long-term goals but I’m not looking past Fiji. There will be a few big units running around out there so I better have my mind fixed on that or I could be on the end of a couple of big collisions.”
Laidlaw said the move to France, where he has captained his new club, has added a new dimension to him as a player.
“I’m confident when it comes to rugby stuff, for sure,” he said. “I’m old school in the sense that I like to get in there and work hard.
“When you go to another club it’s about re-establishing yourself with another group of players. A big part of rugby is gaining the confidence of your new team-mates. I think I’ve probably got to that point at Clermont and it is probably coming through in my rugby this season. I’m enjoying it, playing some good rugby in a team that’s playing well.”
Scotland assistant coach Mike Blair, who played alongside Laidlaw, with the latter at stand-off earlier in his career, paid tribute to the man who has succeeded him in the No 9 jersey.
“It’s brilliant. He’s done really well there [Clermont],” said skills coach Blair. “I had a season playing in France and it’s probably only near the end of the year when I started to feel comfortable with the language and the different personalities within French rugby.
“Greig’s picked that up really quickly, he was right into it in a couple of months.
“He’s the first foreign signing to captain Clermont in his first year so he’s obviously really respected there and he’s done a great job. Him coming back into the squad and captaining the team will get everyone a good boost.
“In terms of composure and game understanding, he’s one of the best out there. He’s a very intelligent player. He can read how the game is going and adapt to that. It’s really important for us to have that. And his basics, his passing and kicking with Clermont, have been excellent as well. So we talk about this kind of super-strength he has with that leadership side, the composure side.”
Laidlaw is looking forward to teaming up again with stand-off Finn Russell and heaped praise on the way the 26-year-old had adapted himself to a new chapter in France with his big-money move to Racing 92.
“You don’t really want to rein in Finn too much,” said Laidlaw of the approach against the unpredictable Fijians today. “Sometimes, I’ll just give him a little look and I think he understands. Sometimes, that’s important in international rugby you’ve got to say, ‘when do we play, when do we not play’ and I think Finn’s got a better understanding of that now. Him moving away to a league like the Top 14 will help him understand that. With the make-up of that Fiji team it is how we can squeeze them in different ways. We’re not going to be able to run at them for 80 minutes. That’s dangerous because there will be a couple of mistakes and we want to limit that because we don’t want to give turnover ball.”
At 33, Laidlaw was asked how long he reckons he can carry on at the highest level and, with a smile, indicated that he intends to be around for a while yet.
“I think I can play till I’m about 50,” he said.
“That’s down the track and all I’m thinking about is this weekend. What will be will be.”