EVEN now, four years on, it is understandable if some followers of the Scotland rugby team are still playing out those last fevered couple of minutes against Australia in their minds.

Vern Cotter’s side were within touching distance of one of the most famous wins in the nation’s history and a place in the last four against a distinctly beatable Argentina team when some untidy ball from a line-up, an errant decision from South African referee Craig Joubert and the boot of Bernard Foley left them burdened with regrets and packing their bags for home.

As this new group of Scotland players – 12 of whom survive from the 2015 group – arrive in Japan keen to take on the world, it was left to 2015 skipper Greig Laidlaw to articulate yesterday how he refuses to view this year’s World Cup through the prism of what unfolded four years ago.

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It is a matter of opinion as to whether the class of 2019 or 2015 are stronger. But much as they did four years ago, Scotland travel to the Far East knowing they can conquer the world if everything goes their way. Having said that, a number of other nations – including Sunday’s opponents Ireland – are more entitled to regard themselves as potential winners of this trophy than we are.

“It’s a strong squad, obviously,” said Laidlaw. “I’m a realist. I think we had a really good squad in 2015 as well – and we did well. If we keep everybody fit this time, we’ll be fine.

“But what happened in 2015 is a long time ago now. It’s done and dusted, we need to move on and look forward.

“I believe we had a group in 2015. And I think we’ve got a good group this time, as well.

“We know we’re going to be close – if we perform. Our results show that. We’ve beaten Australia, beaten England, beaten France. We’ve beaten all the best teams so, if we perform and perform consistently, we know we can be in this tournament.”

Laidlaw may have been overlooked when it comes to the captain’s armband this time around in favour of hooker Stuart McInally, but all number of factors will have come into Townsend’s thinking on that decision. While Scotland are a different team without the veteran smarts of the 33-year-old on the pitch, particularly in defensive organisation, the presence of another two scrum halves in Ali Price and George Horne gives the coach the ability to mix things up.

If Price’s vigour and explosive pace about the pitch was one of the eye-catching features of the 38-38 draw against England, Laidlaw didn’t look like a man preparing to cede his starting spot in the wins against France at Murrayfield and Georgia in Tbilisi. Seventy three caps, 695 points, 102 conversions and 157 penalties certainly count as bountiful reasons to have on the pitch when the chips are down. Whatever happens in the Far East, Laidlaw is happy to lend his leadership to this group.

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“Leadership is important in any team,” said Laidlaw. “And it’s important to support each other not just in games but in training – that’s going to be vital throughout the tournament.

“I’m delighted to support Stuart. I’ll give him all my experience and everything I’ve learned over the years.

“I’m really enjoying my time in Clermont, it’s a fantastic club – and I’m getting to play regularly with and against some of the best players in the world,” he added. “I’ve been trying to develop my game. Defensively, I’m probably a lot stronger.

“So my game is in a good place at the moment. Hopefully people have seen that in my last two performances for Scotland, the win over a very good French team and then the victory in Georgia.”

Those leadership skills is something he sees more and more in his fly half partner Finn Russell since he moved out Racing 92. “That’s part of his development,” said Laidlaw. “Now he’s a player who leads the attack. He certainly drives his own standards, which is excellent. He’s become one of our main leaders in the team.

“There are players in this group who have matured a lot in the last four years. And they’re in key positions for us, which is excellent. Finn and Hoggy [Stuart Hogg], they’ve come on, got a lot of experience now – and they’re leaders now. That is going to help us going into the tournament.”