Selfless Laidlaw was born to lead

It is typical of Greig Laidlaw that when it came to his international retirement, his first thought was on the health of Scottish rugby rather than the man himself.

It is typical of Greig Laidlaw that when it came to his international retirement, his first thought was on the health of Scottish rugby rather than the man himself.

No one has captained Scotland more than his 39 occasions (in fact David Sole is second on 25), so as he calls time on his Test career, it truly is a page that is turning.

It is something that has been on the cards for a while. Laidlaw himself admits that he had more or less taken the decision before the World Cup, but kept it to himself for the sake of the team.

The emotions on his face when he led out Scotland against France in a World Cup warm-up in August told their own story.

He knew then that it was almost certainly going to be his last match at BT Murrayfield. Looking up to his family in the stands, he found it hard to keep it together as Flower of Scotland rang around the ground.

In typical Laidlaw fashion, he then got down to business. As he puts it: “Any time you get to do it is special. That is a day I’ll remember and we beat a good French team as well which is what it’s all about.”

Laidlaw is of course a famous name in Scottish rugby, his uncle Roy won 47 caps for Scotland in the 1980s and toured with The British & Irish Lions. The pair both started their careers at Jed-Forest, as did another great Scotland scrum-half, Gary Armstrong.

When Greig made his Test debut off the bench against New Zealand in 2010, not even he could have imagined that he would match and even surpass the achievements of his famous relative.

That day, Laidlaw was called into action shortly before half-time with Scotland already 28-3 down to the all-conquering All Blacks.

In a video done by the SRU, following Laidlaw around on a day off in Clermont, where he plays his club rugby these days, the scrum-half reflected on that game.

Nine years later, he is one of just four players still active from the Scotland team that played that day. John Barclay, who has also recently called time on his Test career, Richie Gray and fellow replacement Ruaridh Jackson are the others.

Amid the greats on the New Zealand team in Edinburgh, Dan Carter and Richie McCaw leading the way, was winger Isaia Toeava, who these days plays alongside Laidlaw for Clermont.

Laidlaw remarked: “I’ve only just noticed that now. Ice Toeava, I’ll have to speak to him about that. I never realised he played in that game. He’s my teammate at Clermont now.”

Since that day Laidlaw has gone onto win 76 caps for his country, toured with the Lions in 2017, and stands as Scotland’s second highest points scorer of all time. Only Chris Paterson has more than his 714 Test points.

Like Paterson, he is as reliable as they come from the kicking tee, whether it was slotting a crucial conversion against England in this year’s dramatic Guinness Six Nations draw at Twickenham to retain the Calcutta Cup, or braving the elements in a memorable away win in Australia back in 2012.

He will always be remembered for his kicking, but above all, Laidlaw was a leader. In some ways it is fitting that he plays in France these days, where scrum-halves always have a leadership responsibility.

While he captained Scotland 39 times, his leadership stretched beyond that.

He explained: “I think for whatever reason I’ve been selected as a captain over my career so obviously somebody sees something in me.

“I enjoy it because I enjoy the challenge. I enjoy being part of the group and giving the group energy. That’s a big part of who I am as a player and a person. I like trying to bring the best out in people. Some coaches have picked me over the years.

“Standing in the tunnel ready to run out at BT Murrayfield, nothing can replicate that or beat it. Some of the fondest memories of my Scotland career will be standing in the tunnel at BT Murrayfield getting ready to go with the rest of the squad behind you.”

As for the future, Laidlaw will not be hanging his boots up just yet. He remains under contract with Clermont, and believes he still has more to give at club level.

He said: “I’m still in contract here in Clermont so I’ll keep playing professional rugby for as long as I can. My body is good and my mind is too. I’m really enjoying it and I think the step back from international rugby will give me a few breaks in the season that I’ve never had before which will help me stay mentally fresh.

“In terms of the long-term goal I’ll look at coaching which is something I may go into down the track. I’m pretty passionate about that and I’d like to stay involved in the game if I can.

“I’m somebody that is pretty passionate and wear my heart on my sleeve so whether I can prised away from the rugby field remains to be seen.”

Considering how big a part of his life rugby has been, it is hard to imagine Laidlaw stepping away altogether.

For now though, he will turn from Scotland’s go-to man to their go-to fan.