He may have already been forgotten by many connected to Gloucester Rugby and followers of English Rugby, but Cherry and White supporters have a lot to thank former Director of Rugby Nigel Davies for, especially regarding the signing of Greig Laidlaw. Back in early 2014, the plan was to use the Scotsman at both scrum-half and fly-half to help fill the void left by Freddie Burns. Fast forward to now, and Laidlaw has firmly established himself as Gloucester’s first choice number nine and a firm fans’ favourite.
There are three key reasons why Gloucester need Laidlaw at the heart of their team for the considerable future. First, he is a true international quality player who can bring the experience of 46 caps for Scotland, as well as being the national captain for the latest Six Nations and the World Cup. His performances in the latter tournament, nearly leading Scotland to a famous upset against Australia, saw him nominated for 2015 World Player of the Year. Quite an elevation considering he only became a regular international in 2012, and was overlooked for the 2013 British and Irish Lions tour.
The most obvious contribution Laidlaw makes is of course his goal kicking. In previous years, Gloucester were hindered by the lack of a consistent goal kicker, particularly when Nicky Robinson held the number ten shirt back under Bryan Redpath. While the Cherry and Whites are still trying to find a first choice backline that can score more tries, the ability to convert penalties regularly is a massive asset in a hugely competitive Aviva Premiership. For example, against Harlequins at Twickenham back in December, every kick was vital to earn three points from a 39-39 draw. This point scoring ability is enhanced by the long range kicking abilities of both James Hook and Billy Twelvetrees, leaving Gloucester with a source of points from around the field that they haven’t had in recent years.
The third and perhaps most needed characteristic that Laidlaw brings is leadership. He has stepped in as captain for Gloucester and a growing rank of supporters see him as a potential alternative to current club captain Twelvetrees, who appears to perform best without distractions like captaincy and goalkicking. The atmosphere and noise noticeably rose at Kingsholm against London Irish last weekend when the Scotsman came off the bench, and the natural calm and authority he brings onto the pitch was evident as Gloucester came from behind to earn an eventual comfortable win.
Perhaps the defining moment of Greig Laidlaw’s 2015 in Cherry and White came in the Challenge Cup final, against his old club: Edinburgh. With Gloucester leading 19-13 in the final few minutes but with a man down, the scrum-half bossed the forward pack around the Edinburgh half for a full five minutes and twenty phases to secure the trophy.
Given he is usually the smallest player on the pitch, and has a generally mild mannered demeanour, it is all the more impressive that he brings so much authority and influence to both club and country. Gloucester now have a run of Premiership games against all the top teams, including the top two Saracens and Exeter Chiefs both away from home. All the qualities that have been mentioned, backed up by Gloucester’s other senior players, will be vital to their chances of remaining in the top six and achieving Champions Cup rugby next season.