Re­turn­ing skip­per reck­ons Scots can out-think Pa­cific Is­lan­ders in the Au­tumn Test

SCOT­LAND RUGBY

Evening Times - - SPORT - BY KEVIN FERRIE

THINGS have im­proved sig­nif­i­cantly since Greig Laid­law last cap­tained Scot­land.

No-one has taken on that role as of­ten, but the last time he led the side was against France in Paris two sea­sons ago, since then 18 matches have been played, half of them on their home pitch, with eight wins and a soli­tary nar­row loss against New Zea­land’s All Blacks a year ago recorded.

That run, which has in­cluded wins over Aus­tralia, Eng­land, France, Ire­land and Wales, has in turn gen­er­ated a new type of pres­sure since los­ing to a lower-ranked na­tion in Fiji is now a wholly un­ac­cept­able prospect, but Laid­law can only see pos­i­tives in that.

“It has a pos­i­tive ef­fect on the play­ers when that hap­pens. We are well aware of when the sta­dium sells out so quickly. With all the re­spect in the world to the Fiji rugby team it would not have sold out a few years ago,” he pointed out.

“Sell­ing out shows the con­nec­tion we have with the rugby pub­lic. They come to see us play and they ex­pect us to win. It is a tremen­dous feel­ing for a player to have. It is up to us to go and de­liver. That ex­pec­ta­tion is there, and that’s bril­liant. It falls on us as a team and as a col­lec­tive to per­form to­mor­row, and we’ve got 100 per cent con­fi­dence in each other and in the team that we can per­form to­mor­row. Is it go­ing to be easy? No it is not. We’ll need to play for 80 min­utes and stick to our guns.”

He clearly be­lieves that what has also changed is the ma­tu­rity of the team’s two most gifted play­ers, Finn Rus­sell and Stu­art Hogg, who join him in re­turn­ing for this match af­ter miss­ing last week­end’s de­feat in Wales.

His clos­est on-field re­la­tion­ship must ob­vi­ously be with Rus­sell who, like Laid­law, moved to France this sea­son and the cap­tain be­lieves his half-back part­ner has ben­e­fited as a re­sult of the change of en­vi­ron­ment.

“You don’t re­ally want to rein in Finn in too much [but] some­times, I’ll just give him a lit­tle look and I think he un­der­stands,” Laid­law said, with a smile.

‘‘ Sell­ing out shows the con­nec­tion we have with the rugby pub­lic

“Some­times, it’s im­por­tant in in­ter­na­tional rugby to say, `when do we play, when do we not play?’ and I think Finn’s got a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of that now. Him mov­ing away to a league like the Top 14 will help that.”

Hogg mean­while led the side to vic­tory last time he played and Laid­law reck­ons his fel­low Borderer can play an in­valu­able role as vice-cap­tain this time around fol­low­ing his un­ex­pect­edly rapid re­turn from in­jury.

“Again he’s a real thinker,” said the cap­tain. “He’s got a lot of strengths clearly with his speed and at­tack­ing game but that’s some­thing Hoggy’s ma­tured into and he cap­tained the team dur­ing the sum­mer. His de­vel­op­ment has been bril­liant and even though he’s still so young, he’s had ex­pe­ri­ence, two Lions tours, Six Na­tions player of the tour­na­ment two years in a row. He’s a great tal­ent and a real thinker too, so for me to have him along­side is bril­liant.”

For all the Fi­jians’s un­doubted phys­i­cal at­tributes, their coach has ad­mit­ted that they have had to keep things very ba­sic this week be­cause of their lack of prepa­ra­tion time and Laid­law reck­ons that hav­ing had much more op­por­tu­nity to hone their tac­tics, as well as their tech­nique, should serve his side well.

“If we are smart enough we can out-think in cer­tain ar­eas that could hope­fully have a big han­dle on the game,” he said.

“That is down to the lead­ers within the team un­der­stand­ing what plays we have planned and when and where to run them.

“I think we have more ex­pe­ri­ence in and around key po­si­tions hope­fully within the team. We have had that time to­gether, not just over the past cou­ple of weeks, but also over the past cou­ple of years. The part­ner­ships, whether my­self and Finn or sec­ond rows where Sam [Skin­ner] is com­ing in for his first cap and whether it’s Gilko [Grant Gilchrist] speak­ing to me, through the spine of that team we have a strong con­nec­tion and we will have to use it.”

What was no­tice­able on Laid­law’s re­turn to the side last sea­son was his pre­pared­ness to per­form a sim­i­lar func­tion to a foot­ball mid­fielder putting his foot on the ball in or­der to weigh up op­tions and he will not hes­i­tate to do so again.

Cap­tain Greig Laid­law makes sure his pass­ing is up to scratch at Scot­land train­ing yes­ter­day ahead of

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