Laidlaw: “You always want to beat your local rivals”
Former Edinburgh and Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw was always a man that rose to the occasion, especially when it came to representing the capital club in the annual 1872 Cup derbies.
Laidlaw started his glistening rugby career at Edinburgh Rugby, notching up 137 appearances and 598 points for the capital side from 2007-14. The half-back is currently playing his rugby for the Shining Arcs in Japan, after stints at Gloucester and Clermont Auvergne.
The man from Jedburgh is perhaps best known for his goal-kicking and leadership qualities, holding the record for most caps as captain of the Scotland Team with 39 and ending his international career with 76 caps and 714 points, making him the second highest points scorer for the national side behind Chris Paterson.
No stranger to a big game, the former-Scotland Internationalist was always keen to impress in derby fixtures and featured across multiple 1872 Cup matches against club rivals Glasgow during his time in the capital.
“My earliest memories were about how much it was hyped up as a Scotland trial, and it being the sort of game you wanted to play in. It was always around the Christmas period in bad weather, so remember playing in the cold a lot!
“I enjoyed being involved and being competitive, whether it was home or away, I was just keen to get stuck in to get the win for Edinburgh.
“I never liked the funny jerseys though! We had a couple of shockers, but it became part of the fixture! I’m sure there are some pictures of me floating around out there in the yellow jersey.
“On the pitch, I remember one year when Jim Thompson took an interception and went the length of the field to win a match at BT Murrayfield for us, so I’ve got very fond memories of that one.
“You know the score with the game and when you’re going head-to-head with Glasgow, certainly in my latter years when I was Edinburgh captain for the fixtures. It was very easy to get up for it, because you want to beat your local rivals.”
Laidlaw gained vital leadership experience as a captain and leader while at Edinburgh, leading out the capital team in crucial derby matches, whilst partnering current Edinburgh Head Coach Mike Blair in the halves.
“Looking back, I was lucky because there was a good leadership group at the club. I was playing 10 mostly with Mike at 9, and we had a good relationship with both of us taking over tactical stuff as well as getting the boys ready to play.
“We also had Chris Paterson, Allan Jacobsen, and Ross Ford so there was a lot of experience around me which helped me in my early years as a captain.
“There was a natural progression to becoming Scotland captain, when I was made Scotland captain there were also a lot of Edinburgh players in the squad which made the transition easier.
“It was awesome to captain Edinburgh in those games, but we also had a strong collective leadership group that helped me in my development.”
For Laidlaw, being captain and playing in the halves was all about keeping a level head, something especially important given the bite and confrontation levels in a local derby.
“It was about finding a balance between being aggressive and making sure you’re doing the right things under pressure, thinking as clearly as possible especially from a goal-kicking perspective, and not getting too involved in the niggle to make sure you’re playing to the best of your ability.
“During that period, it was more the forwards winding each other up, you’d have Big Jim going at Big Al, us backs were normally a bit out of the way of that stuff!”
Greig is widely known as a scrum-half, representing the Lions and Barbarians as a 9, as well as picking up the majority of his international caps in the position. However, he started his professional rugby career at 10, and is thankful for the part it played in his development.
“I played a fair bit of both 9 and 10 when I was growing up, I played age-grade at 9 but for my club I was a 10. It’s helped me playing both, it’s a big factor in my development and my understanding in the game, how each position can help each other. I was lucky that I played both, I’m really thankful for it.
“Mike Blair was massive in my development; he was awesome to play alongside. I learned a lot from him about being a 9 and having game understanding, and we developed a great relationship.”
During Laidlaw’s club career, he has played in some of the biggest derbies in club rugby, notably the 1872 Cup and the West-Country Derby while at Gloucester, and Laidlaw has noticed similarities in all the fixtures he has been involved in.
“All of them are slightly different, I guess, but with a lot of similarities in there. The west country derby was pretty special, playing at the Rec and playing at Kingsholm was special, they’re proper rugby clubs to playing in those games was a great experience.
“Clermont was definitely different, our derby was against Brive, who are probably a smaller club than Clermont, with a smaller budget and fewer big names. They were fighting for their lives, and would be there to really beat you up, so you had to be switched on and physically ready, because they went out all guns blazing. It was probably the most confrontational derby I’ve been in.
“With all of them form and league position go out of the window, perhaps more so for the 1872 Cup, because it’s all so close to home. Both sides wanted to show up against their peers, so it was one of the more unpredictable ones.”