interview Keeping growing excitement under control is just one of Edinburgh captain's jobs, writes Kevin Ferrie
Having performed well in early season, Greig Laidlaw had been dropped from the starting XV to make way for his international rival Mike Blair, who was returning from the World Cup, and he admits he was not pleased.
“I was annoyed, yeah, but I think that’s a good thing; If your dropped I think you should be annoyed,” said the pugnacious scrum-half. “Being the club captain, I want to play the big games, so I’m just glad I’m playing this weekend.”
He may not have started but all involved with Edinburgh were delighted that he was there to finish things off in completing their remarkable 20-19 comeback win when visiting the third- placed team in England’s Aviva Premiership.
Laidlaw played down his contribution. “It wasn’t the last kick of the game, so it wasn’t nerves of steel or anything,” he said. “Harry [Leonard] had missed a couple so he wanted me to take over and I was quite happy to do so.”
It was a relatively straightforward kick and there were 12 minutes remaining so it was not quite as dramatic a finish as some of those elsewhere, but Laidlaw knew what was at stake as he lined it up, just as he had when attempting the much trickier conversion of Stuart McInally’s try that got them back into the game.
“We were within touching distance, so I knew it was a big kick at the time with the scoreline as it was,” Laidlaw acknowledged. That he took over the goal-kicking on taking the field was itself down to advance planning since he and his teenage team-mate, who had missed a couple of shots at goal, had discussed what might happen when he came on.
“I talked to Harry before the game and he said, ‘If I’m not going well, I’d rather you kicked’, then as soon as I came on he said he’d rather I kicked because he’d missed two or three,” Laidlaw said.
Leonard was otherwise superb, playing with an assurance way beyond his years, just as 20-year-old Duncan Weir was to do for Glasgow Warriors the following day.
At the ripe old age of 26, Laidlaw is revelling in the responsibility he now feels. “Part of my job and part of the job of other boys round about is to help them,” he said. “I can help Harry with my kicking game if I’m playing alongside him. I can keep pressure off him which just allows him to get on with his job and he’s got less to worry about.”
Not that he believes too much assistance is required. “I’m massively impressed with Harry,” Laidlaw went on. “I like the way he’s handling himself and the way he plays. He’s quite laid-back and he’s got great skills and he’s one of these players who, when he’s on the ball, looks as though he’s got plenty of time. His kicking is excellent. He did push a few at the weekend, but his kicking from hand as well . . . he’s really impressed me.”
The same applies to McInally and Matthew Scott, two 21-year-olds who have slotted in well at No.8 and inside-centre respectively and Laidlaw consequently believes the portents are good for Scottish rugby as it seeks to recover from a desperately disappointing World Cup campaign.
“I’m not sure whether surprised is the right word because these are good players, but they’ve certainly stepped up to the plate”, was his reaction to the way the youngsters have contributed. “A lot of times you see young guys coming through and you wonder ‘Is this going to be the next player?’ and these guys, it is early, but the way they’ve played they maybe could be.
“Glasgow’s the same and that can only be a good thing for Scotland, and for the pro teams, as well.”
All of which explains just why there is that aforementioned sense of excitement at the moment, but the Edinburgh captain has been around long enough to know just how quickly that can evaporate.
“I’m confident, but we’re not getting ahead of ourselves,” said Laidlaw. “A team like Racing Metro who have massive players, world-class players throughout their squad . . . if we don’t turn up on Friday night, we’ll get turned over. That’s the theme we’re going for now: consistency, accuracy and patience when we’re playing. If we take those things into the game, there’s no reason we can’t win.
“Everyone is getting a bit excited, but we have to keep our feet on the ground. The players are well aware of that and I think everybody else is, as well. There’s no point in us going down to London Irish and winning then coming home this weekend and getting beat, because that’s the hard work undone and it’s maybe where Edinburgh have fallen down in the past.
“One good win, out of the blue almost, and then follow it up with a defeat. That’s something we need to change this weekend; if we do that then we are in a good position.”