Edinburgh – More than ever Scotland will rely on the goal-kicking skills and leadership qualities of Greig Laidlaw when they attempt to beat France for the first time in 10 years in a Six Nations match at Murrayfield on Sunday.
It was the Gloucester scrumhalf’s unerring accuracy with the boot and calmness under pressure that inspired the win over Italy in Rome two weeks ago and this weekend he will enjoy a double personal celebration.
Laidlaw will win his 50th cap and in so doing he will draw level with prop David Sole in leading his country for a record 25th time.
In that time he has enjoyed more lows than highs, but a good run into the World Cup quarter-finals last year and the win over Italy, which brought to an end a nine-match losing streak in the Six Nations, has brought renewed optimism.
At 30 years old Laidlaw believes his best years in a Scottish shirt may very well lie ahead of him.
“It’s been enjoyable but tough at times,” he said of his tenure as Scotland skipper.
“You’re always learning as a captain, as a player and I just want to win as many games as I can in the Scotland jersey in my career.
“I’m more comfortable in the role now. I feel I’ve got the respect of the dressing room now and have developed my relationships with the coaches over a bit of time.
“Along with some other boys in the team we’re starting to produce a leadership group. We need to take advantage of that and win more games.”
A key aspect to Laidlaw’s role remains his developing partnership with young flyhalf Finn Russell as the Scots seek to produce the kind of top-class No.10 they have lacked since the days of Gregor Townsend.
Russell has shown glimpses that he has the attacking skills and play-making abilities that could unleash the powerful running of back three Stuart Hogg, Tim Visser and Tommy Seymour and it is up to Laidlaw to bring him on.
Scotland coach Vern Cotter for one believes that Russell could have no better a role model than his team captain.
“Everybody was ready to write Greig off but he has stood up and done a great job,” the New Zealander said.
“He keeps the scoreboard ticking over and is really focused on the performance rather than his 50th cap.
“Everyone can see the effect he has on his team-mates and he has developed well as a leader. He has grown as a man and taken the responsibility of leading the team.
“What we need now is for more players to step up and take some leadership.”
A win over the French on Sunday would be the first time in three years that the Scots have produced back-to-back wins in the Six Nations and it would set them up for a trip to Dublin next week and a possible third place finish.