Laney proves central to the reflowering

By Simon Turnbull
Sunday 16 February 2003 01:00
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Brendan Laney has always been a fighter. In his youth, growing up in Temuka, New Zealand, he spent four years as an amateur boxer. "It was a sport that was really popular in my home town at the time," Scotland's inside-centre recalled. "My dad was the policeman around town and he said, 'Maybe you'd better go along and learn a bit of discipline'."

The young Laney learned more than that. He won more bouts than he lost – seven to four – and acquired the fighting spirit that has served him so well in his short time in the land of his Glaswegian grandmother. "Overrated, overpaid, over here," was the headlined appraisal of his worth in one newspaper after his fast-tracked baptism for Scotland against the All Blacks in November 2001, just 10 days after his arrival as an Edinburgh player.

Last week the same organ was extolling the virtues of the 29-year-old back-of-all-trades. And rightly so.

Laney has emerged as perhaps the pivotal player for Scotland, who open their Six Nations campaign against Ireland at Murrayfield this after-noon. A full-back last season, he was hugely influential in the flowering of a successful Scotland team in the autumn, dictating operations from the No 12 position. He might not be the quickest of centres, but his swiftness of mind and advanced reading of the play kept the Scots on the front foot in the November victories against Romania, South Africa and Fiji.

Outstanding as a stand-in stand-off for Edinburgh in recent weeks, Laney was, by Ian McGeechan's admission, a serious contender for the No 10 shirt today. "There's no doubt how well he's been playing," the Scotland coach said. "Brendan is very influential and it's important that he is so from the No 12 position." With Gordon Ross picked at outside-half on the strength of his tactical kicking, it will be Laney's job to pull the strings in the style of a New Zealand second- five-eighth.

"It's a bit of a new position for me, but I'm having a lot of fun having a go at it," Laney said. "I think the way the game has been played in the Super 12s for the last three years, a lot of it goes through the second-five-eighth, the No 12. First-fives are getting more into the game with tackling and attacking the ball. The second-five has to slot into that stand-off position and take control of the game. I quite enjoy that. It means that I get my hands on the ball a bit earlier and get to put a bit of control on the game."

And Scotland will need all the control they can get behind the scrum today, with Brian O'Driscoll lurking at outside-centre in the opposition ranks. O'Driscoll plundered a hat-trick of tries in Ireland's 44-22 thrashing of the Scots at Lansdowne Road last March, when, to quote Bill McLaren, the Scottish midfield "opened up like the Gobi Desert".

"He's an awesome player," Laney said. " 'God' is respected round the world as a midfielder. Part of my job description will be to tackle him, so I'm going to have to make sure my tackling is bang on and not relax for a second, because he'll cut you to pieces. He did that last year in Dublin. He made us look like bloody fools, actually."

Laney is certainly no fool. In 14 months he has risen to seventh place on Scotland's all-time points-scoring list. Having assumed the kicking duties when Chris Paterson was injured in Rome last year, his points tally stands at 125 – placing the former New Zealand Under-21 international behind only Gavin Hastings (667), Andy Irvine (273), Kenny Logan (215), Peter Dods (210), Craig Chalmers (166) and Gregor Townsend (157).

"Yeah, it's been good," Laney said, pondering his 14-month transformation from unwanted outsider to national hero. "It's been a pretty fast year and a bit. I didn't expect to come over and take the kicking duties, but I've really enjoyed doing it. I've had my chances to kick goals and I've managed to get a few over, which has been good. I'm delighted with the way things have gone, and hopefully I've got a few more years to bump my score up even more."

And to bump down the critics. There were some who carped at Laney's 59 per cent kicking record in the autumn internationals. Not that they ruffled him. "It's water off a duck's back to me now," he said. "I've got a job to do and I get out there to do it. I don't go out there and make mistakes on purpose."

Even the team-mates who have taken his nickname in vain have failed to disturb his equable nature. "Chainsaw" Laney has been rechristened "Coleslaw" and "Hacksaw". "It's just the boys taking the piss out of me," he said.

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