Greig Laidlaw: Thirsty for more Heineken

Edinburgh's surprise run last season was a fillip for Scottish rugby, and the captain is keen to repeat it – starting against Saracens today – as he explains to Simon Turnbull

Greig Laidlaw is sitting in one of the suites in Murrayfield's west stand, pen in hand, ready to sign a programme that has been thrust in front of him. "Just put 'Scotland superstar Greig Laidlaw'," someone suggests. The Edinburgh captain laughs in self-deprecation.

They don't do superstars where he happens to come from. Even his uncle, Roy Laidlaw, and that other great scrum-half product of the Jed-Forest club, Gary Armstrong, were never given to considering themselves anything other than honest sons of Jedburgh, the Borders and Caledonia.

Still, the programme on the table is a reminder of the star quality Greig Laidlaw has brought to bear in 2012. It is from the Hunter Stadium, Newcastle – in New South Wales – on 3 June. Laidlaw's last-minute penalty that day, struck into the teeth of a gale, earned Scotland a famous 9-6 victory against Australia.

The meteorological conditions may have been freakish but the result was no fluke. It was reward for a supremely dogged Scottish effort. It was Scotland's first win away from home for three decades against one of the southern hemisphere's big three and a vital shot in the arm after a run of seven defeats that hit the troughs of a first failure to reach the World Cup knockout stages and a Six Nations whitewash.

It was followed up by victories in Fiji and Samoa, and came on the back of Edinburgh's march to the semi-finals of the Heineken Cup towards the end of last season, giving Scottish rugby some forward momentum again. Much of the inspiration for the shift in direction was generated by Edinburgh's unlikely run to the last four in Europe's premier club competition, which starts again for them this season with a Pool 1 home fixture against Saracens at Murrayfield today.

They set out last term with a 20-19 win away to London Irish, then overcame a 44-20 deficit to beat Racing Metro in a 48-47 thriller at home. Guided by the coaching nous of former Ireland scrum-half Michael Bradley, they also beat Cardiff Blues and Irish at home and Racing again in Paris. They couldn't get past Ulster in a Dublin semi-final but beat Toulouse in a memorable Murrayfield quarter-final in April.

Laidlaw kicked the clinching points against the four-times European champions and pulled the strings in splendidly assured fashion. Through the course of the tournament the Borderer, who turns 27 today, metamorphosed from Scotland's fourth-choice scrum-half (behind Chris Cusiter, Mike Blair and Rory Lawson) into the kind of perceptive, probing stand-off for whom his country had been crying out for years.

Given the emergence of Dave Denton and Ross Rennie as back-row dynamos of high pedigree, and the development of back-line talents such as wing Lee Jones and centre Matt Scott, it is fair to say that the Heineken Cup last season refreshed parts of the Scottish game that others couldn't reach. The irony is that Edinburgh wouldn't even have been in the continental mix last term had the qualification procedure now proposed by England's Premiership clubs been in place.

The English elite, and indeed the French, want an end to guaranteed places in the competition for Scottish and Italian clubs. As things stand, Edinburgh and Glasgow, Scotland's two professional clubs, both have automatic qualification. In future, if the English and French have their way, they will have to finish in the top six of the RaboDirect Pro12, the league for the top Celtic and Italian teams.

"I can see where the English and French teams are coming from, if I'm being honest," Laidlaw confesses. "They play in tough leagues from which they have to qualify. For us, at Edinburgh Rugby, it's not our decision, but obviously we love playing in the Heineken Cup.

"We brought something to the competition last year. We have to do that again this year. We have to show that, if we're getting an automatic pick, we've got to be worthy of being there. We also need to make sure our Rabo form is up there, so if it does change then Edinburgh Rugby are still going to be playing in the Heineken Cup."

While they blazed a glorious trail in Europe last season, Edinburgh – who now have the former England flanker Neil Back working with the forwards – failed to fire on the domestic front. They finished second bottom of the Pro12 pile. Six games into the 2012-13 campaign, they stand ninth.

A change to national Heineken Cup qualification would naturally increase the pressure to deliver on the bread-and-butter front.

"I don't think it would be a bad thing in the long run," Laidlaw says. "I think in terms of pushing players on and developing squads that are capable of winning leagues it certainly wouldn't be a bad thing to have that carrot in front of you – to make sure that you need to be up there in the league."

Laidlaw acknowledges how pivotal the Heineken Cup experience was in his personal rugby development last season. "I think it was very important," he says. "There were a lot of tight games and I felt I learnt a lot from managing those games. I really enjoyed the challenge. I felt that improved me as a player, especially as a stand-off."

The challenge for Laidlaw and for Edinburgh in this season's competition will be to back up their Heineken heroics of 2011-12. That is not going to be easy. Their pool includes Munster and Racing Metro, as well as Saracens.

The talk in the Scottish capital this week has been of Sarries heading north looking to bully Edinburgh up front today. The 2011 English champions have already suffered one knock-back, though, Edinburgh having resisted their attempts to switch the return game in January from Watford to Cape Town.

Saracens, of course, have succeeded in arranging for their opening "home" match against Racing to be played in Brussels a week today. For Edinburgh and their star stand-off, though, the priority is ensuring that Heineken Cup games are still played in Scotland – one way or another.

Flower of Scotland: Last season's run

Pool 2

London Irish 19-20 Edinburgh

Edinburgh 48-47 Racing Metro

Cardiff Blues 25-8 Edinburgh

Edinburgh 19-12 Cardiff Blues

Racing Metro 24- 27 Edinburgh

Edinburgh 34- 11 London Irish

* Edinburgh finished top of the pool, one point ahead of Cardiff Blues.

Quarter-final

Edinburgh 19-14 Toulouse Mike Blair scored an early try as Edinburgh became first Scottish side to reach Heineken Cup semi-finals.

Semi-final

Ulster 22-19 Edinburgh A valiant effort but Jim Thompson's last-minute try, converted by Greig Laidlow, was not enough in Dublin.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: Human Resources Manager

£28000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: A successful organisation...

Recruitment Genius: Internal Recruiter - Manufacturing

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Internal Recruiter (manufact...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager (CIPD) - Barking / East Ham - £50-55K

£50000 - £55000 per annum + 25 days holidays & benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Man...

Recruitment Genius: Operations / Project Manager

£40000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software company specialis...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones