KEEPING a lid on some of the wilder rugby impulses of Adam Hastings and Finn Russell will be a key role for Greig Laidlaw during Scotland’s clash against Argentina this [Saturday] afternoon, but the national team captain says it is not his job to stop the mischievous duo from having fun.
Head coach Gregor Townsend’s decision to shift Russell from stand-off to inside-centre and hand Hastings his first home start in the primary playmaker role is bold, although the pair have combined well when they have been given opportunities to link up late on in the team’s last two matches. Both have reputations as free-spirits of the rugby field with the ability to open a game up with their imagination and fearlessness, but they can also be guilty of pushing their luck too far at times, so it will be fascinating to see how they fair against a Los Pumas side certain to come flying out the blocks after two disappointing defeats against Ireland and France during the last fortnight.
“Yes, would be the short answer,” said Laidlaw, when asked if he felt an extra responsibility to keep the two players on his outside focussed on the job at hand. “That comes with experience. Where I am placed in the team is such a crucial link and it comes back to the small margins to win Test matches. If you choose to run at the wrong time it can cost you points.
“Sometimes it is a simple case of just getting the ball down the field and saying to the opposition: ‘You have to score from 70 metres’. We have to keep the boys reminded that we have a good defence as well, so we can use that to our advantage. We don’t need to have the ball all the time to put the opposition under pressure.
“Being captain, it is my job to implement the game-plan we have spoken about and want to put in place, but in the same breath I have got to give them the confidence to cut loose as well. It is such a fine line.
“It is not about over-playing, and that is where I try and come in – make sure we don’t over-play, by asking the questions such as, what are we doing? What’s the next play? Is that the right play?
“We are not going to run it from everywhere. We are not playing for the Barbarians. We are playing for Scotland and want to play a fast brand of rugby. That is a controlled game as well.”
“They can cause mayhem as long as it is in the right area of the field.”
A meme produced by filmmaker and freelance animator Graham Love – depicting Laidlaw as a flustered mother holding into a kids’ harness with Hastings and Russell as toddlers at the other end – caused some amusement on social media earlier this week, and it turns out the players inside the Scotland camp also saw the funny side.
That 9, 10, 12 combo though… pic.twitter.com/RANALrtKBA
— Graham Love (@GLove39) November 21, 2018
“Yeah, I have seen it – Adam actually showed me it,” chuckled Laidlaw. “Hoggy kindly changed the group icon on the team’s WhatsApp to that, so we are getting reminded every time we check the phone now.
“It is a bit of banter,” he added, before suggesting that the portrayal does not truly reflect the dynamic the team.
“I think Finn [at inside centre] will be tremendous for Adam, to be honest. Any time Finn has trained there or moved there in a game he has done really well. He has a little bit more time and space to pick up his head and hopefully see some opportunities, and he’s a really good communicator as well – that’s one of his great strengths – so he’ll feed that into Adam. That’s the plan to make Adam’s job as easy as possible, so he can just get out there and play rugby.
Adam’s the man
“We want to push Adam on and make him a leader. With him playing in the ten position he will be vitally important tomorrow afternoon. He is the man in charge.
“I’m confident that he is going to be his own man, definitely. It is up to him now to just get out and play rugby and do what he has been doing for Glasgow. That’s what I’ve said to him this week: ‘Don’t get caught up in the occasion.’ But I know he won’t – he’ll just get out there and express himself.
“This week he has been communicating very well and running the team shape. With me inside him and Finn outside him there will be good communication around him, so we can make sure he is happy and go out there and play rugby.
“Every time you play for Scotland it is awesome but last weekend we were really disappointed in that we were frustrated in not scoring more tries,” he continued. “We want to be a bit sharper and we spoke about that this week. We spoke about getting hands on the ball and making good decisions – getting out there and really enjoying the game.”