SCOTTISH sporting history is littered with heroic near-misses but none carry the same bitter legacy as the rugby side’s exit from the 2015 World Cup.

What makes it stand out is not the emotion of seeing the lead snatched away seconds from the end of their quarter-final against Australia but that, for once, they had somebody else to blame.

The frustration was not helped a few days later when the Rugby World Cup organisers put out a statement. It explained that referee Craig Joubert, who hadn’t spotted the ball hitting an Australian arm after a knock-on, putting the offside Scots back onside, was not allowed to consult the video replay but nevertheless put on record that he had got the key penalty decision wrong.

With the next World Cup on the horizon, mem-ories of that moment remain sore and for Greig Laidlaw, Scottish captain on the day, there is still a feeling of unfinished business to help motivate his drive into the next campaign.

“The last World Cup still burns away inside me and it always will,” he admitted. “We won’t get it back, so we’re trying to put our energy into this one, take our learnings from that game and that tournament into this one.

“It would obviously be good to be in a quarter-final again, and then be in the game, but we’ll be trying to use the experience from last time.

“At this stage, we can’t look past the first game. We’ve got Ireland first up in a difficult pool so we need to negotiate the pool first and take it from there.”

He is right, the tournament coming is certainly no easier a challenge. Like four years ago, their pool includes a side ranked in the top three in the world – this time Ireland replacing South Africa – plus Samoa, who came close to beating Scotland four years ago.

There is also Japan, the hosts trying to make history by reaching the knockout stage and who feel they were given a raw deal when they faced Scotland in 2015 just four days after beating South Africa. The group is completed by Russia, who replace the USA as potential whipping boys.

For Laidlaw, who will celebrate his 34th birthday during the tourn-ament, there is also the extra factor that he knows this is his final shot at it.

“It will be my last World Cup, absolutely. It won’t be different. When you think about it, it does feel different, but in terms of the actual prepar-ation it will be the same,” he said. “You’ve just got to trust the process as a player and an individual. I’ve done it for a long time now, I’ve been picked and selected by a few different coaches and captained the team more than anybody else. There’s a reason for that. You’ve just got to have confidence in yourself and hopefully that’s enough.”

What he doesn’t yet know is how much he is going to be involved in the playing side of things. The Six Nations ended with him on the bench, not the starting XV, and he said there had been no conversations with head coach Gregor Townsend about who will captain the team in the next campaign.

“Without a shadow of a doubt, I feel I can win the shirt back,” he said. “I’ll fight to the death for my jersey, I’ll fight tooth and nail for it if I have to. I won’t be shying away from that.

“I’m looking forward to the

challenge and I think it’s good for me. Ali [Price, who started ahead of him] is playing really well, George [Horne, who is also in the squad] is coming in as well as a young scrum-half. I think I add value to the group.

“I still feel I’ve got a lot to give to the jersey and the group, and I look forward to the challenge that lies ahead. I just worry about myself. My team-mates know what I’m about.”

Part of the reason for his confidence is that he feels his move to France has extended his playing career. Unlike many players who have crossed the Channel and been flogged to exhaustion, he has shared the scrum-half duties at Clermont Auvergne with Morgan Parra.

Though he was late arriving at the Scotland camp after his side reached the final in France, he is in peak condition and feels his time abroad means his game is still developing.

“It’s been excellent,” he said. “You feel as though you’re playing in big games every week, every time you play. That gives you a good mindset, so when you do go into massive games, you feel really prepared because you’re playing in front of massive crowds all the time. That’s really helped me. You can be more relaxed going into games because you know you’ve got enough armoury in the tool box to win them.

“You’re always trying to add stuff to your game and, hopefully, I’m a little bit stronger defensively. That’s something I’ve worked hard on.

“Going down to France, I try to play quickly all the time. If the ball is quick, we’re good to go. You’re certainly always trying to develop that, and Gregor [Townsend] is big on his support lines from scrum-half.

“That’s something new I’ve been trying to develop, but underpinning it all is the way I see the game. My ability to control things, goalkicking, that’s all within my control. I’ve got to make sure I look after what I do well.”

That could all put him in pole pos-ition to be there again if Scotland can reach another quarter-final, likely to be against either New Zealand or South Africa.

This time, he would just like their fate to be in their own hands, not decided by an officiating blunder.