Rugby World Cup: Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell are "probably gutted" by my fame in Japan, says Greig Laidlaw
The down to earth Borderer has found himself in the unlikely position of being mobbed by Japanese rugby fans eager for an autograph from “Mr Greig”, as he is known here. And beyond the blushes, you could see at the eve of match press conference in Tokyo ahead of Scotland’s Pool A opener against Ireland in Yokohama that the 33-year-old from Jedburgh was not finding it an unenjoyable experience.
Asked if the Scottish megastars more used to the limelight, Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell, were feeling a bit put out, Laidlaw replied with a mischievous grin: “They’re probably playing it down but they're probably pretty gutted I would imagine.
“It’s been awesome. I seem to be a bit of a favourite which is certainly more amusing to the boys than it is to me,” added Laidlaw, who will win his 74th cap partnering Russell at half-back in the pivotal clash with the world No 1-ranked team.
“It's been brilliant. It's obviously a newer country for rugby to come to which is part of the bigger picture and it's awesome to be in this part of the world with the pinnacle of the game being here. The people are really rising to the occasion and we want to be a big part of its success.”
The question on everybody’s lips though is where has this 'Greeg-mania' sprung from?
“I think it came from the last World Cup in 2015,” he replied. Laidlaw kicked 20 points in a 45-10 win Japan in Gloucester, where he was then playing his club rugby before a move to French club Clermont Auvergne. The win came just days after Eddie Jones’ Japan side had pulled off the biggest shock in Rugby World Cup history by defeating the Springboks in Brighton.
“Obviously Japan had that tremendous victory against South Africa and while I can’t remember the numbers, a couple of million watched that game [in Japan]," added Laidlaw.
“By the time they played us, and again don’t quote me on the numbers, but the viewing figures in Japan had increased significantly. Fortunately I had one of my better games for Scotland that day and I think it all stems from there.”
Of course, the phrase, ‘Big in Japan’ was originally a pejorative, referring to US and British bands who couldn’t buy a hit in their home markets but went down a storm in the land of the rising sun.
So it's certainly not an accurate description of Laidlaw, who has gone from Edinburgh to grace the English and French leagues and captained his country in many of those 73 caps.
He appreciates that this World Cup, only his second after missing out on selection in 2011, is something he must make the most of.
“It will be my last World Cup, that's for sure. Of course, any time you get to pull on the jersey you savour it. When Gregor named the team to the boys you get excited. It’s the same excitement you got the first time you were picked. There’s nerves and it all comes rushing back.
“It’s awesome to be involved but I want to be involved in a successful team and that's what we’re here to do. The boys given the opportunity and privilege to play tomorrow, it’s up to us to get the result.”
Laidlaw will be one of many wise old heads around in Scotland’s most experienced ever starting XV to give their backing to World Cup captain and hooker Stuart McInally.
“I feel pretty privileged to be able to do it,” said the 29-year-old hooker. “To be captain for the first game is a massive honour. We’re just excited as a group to get going, we’ve been out here a couple of weeks now and before that two months of good training.
“It feels like this game has been a long time coming. We’ve been training well and we’re definitely ready to go.”
Asked what he, as captain, would view as a successful tournament, the Edinburgh player said: “Success for us is playing to our potential. We feel we’ve got the potential to beat any side, especially in our pool and then further on if we get our game right.”
As one of McInally’s predecessors in the role, Laidlaw, who is co-vice captain with John Barclay, expects the hooker to fill the role seamlessly.
“He’s been excellent,” said Laidlaw. “As Rambo [McInally] says himself, he does his leading out on the field and he certainly does that. He's got the full backing of the team and we respect him. It's been good just hearing a fresh voice, someone who is young and newer to the role.
“He's going to do a fantastic job both now and in four years to come. It’s up to us that the leaders round about him, myself included, that we make sure he gets the support he needs.
“We feel as if we’re ready to play. The game hasn't started, it’s still 0-0 and we can feel as good as we like but it all comes down to the performance.
“Ireland will be saying they have prepared well too so it will all come down to what happens on the day. We're going to have to meet that challenge head on.”