Late British and Irish Lion Greig Laidlaw ready to seize second chance
When Greig Laidlaw comes to write his autobiography the spiky Scotland scrumhalf will probably need a lot of help piecing together the first half of 2017 after a whirlwind of highs and lows have left him dazed and dizzy with emotion.
The best could yet be ahead too as he contemplates club glory for Gloucester and his first tour with the British and Irish Lions having been called up on Saturday as a replacement for England's Ben Youngs.
Scotland captain Greg Laidlaw kicked 21 points against Italy.Reuters
All this is happening during a period when, according to medical opinion, he should only now contemplating a tentative return to action after suffering an ankle injury that looked to have wrecked his season.
Unsurprisingly, he was omitted from Warren Gatland's Lions squad last month but his recovery went better than expected and, after two appearances off the bench, he started his first game back for Gloucester on Saturday.
It did not go well as they went down 34-20 to Exeter but his mood was lifted considerably when he got the call to say he had been selected for the Lions on their tour of New Zealand.
The opportunity arrived because Youngs pulled out after hearing that his brother Tom's wife had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, which again left Laidlaw with mixed emotions.
"First and foremost everyone's thoughts are with Tom, with Ben and the whole of the Youngs family," he said on Monday after joining the rest of the squad to be fitted out with their kit. "A week is a long time in sport. Straight off the back of a defeat with Gloucester we weren't feeling too good, then all of a sudden I'm pretty excited about this. So it's a quick turnaround and here I am today. I've not had time to think about it really and it will probably sink in over the next few games."
The current upheaval in Laidlaw's life is also due to him moving to join Clermont Auvergne in France next season, with his belongings currently being crated up.
He would love to sign off after three years at Gloucester by helping them to victory over Stade Francais in the European Challenge Cup final at Murrayfield on Friday and he says he is now feeling so sharp that the enforced rest could turn out to have been a blessing in disguise.
"It's a very long season nowadays, so to get that sort of break means you can get in the gym, improve a few things," he said.
"Whereas if you're taking the bangs every week it's hard to get the same quality of conditioning in."
Coach Warren Gatland said Laidlaw's Six Nations absence had worked against him as Conor Murray, Rhys Webb and Youngs were initially selected but the New Zealander was full of praise for the late arrival on Monday.
"He's very respected in terms of leadership, he understands the game," he said. "He's not the biggest and most imposing scrumhalf, but he’s a player who finds the right balance between bringing forwards and backs into the game. You want players who have a point of difference."
Laidlaw, who becomes only the third Scot in the party alongside fellow backs Stuart Hogg and Tommy Seymour, made it clear that now he has been given a second chance, he is not travelling just to hold the tackle bags for the test team.
"Everyone will be targeting a start for sure, and I'll be no different," he said. "I'm a competitor and that's one of my strengths and that will never leave me.
"It's about making sure that when I get an opportunity I take it."