Greig Laidlaw backs Vern Cotter's methods with Scotland squad
Greig Laidlaw believes Vern Cotter has struck the right balance of competition and co-operation among the Scotland squad.
The Gloucester half-back is one of eight players who are in line for their first taste of World Cup warm-up action on Saturday after being named in Cotter's 25-man squad for the Murrayfield Test against Italy.
Backs Tim Visser, Mark Bennett, Finn Russell, Stuart Hogg and Tommy Seymour are all looking for their first appearance of the season along with forwards Jonny Gray and Ryan Wilson, whose suspension from Scotland duty following an assault conviction expired on Sunday.
Laidlaw is a definite starter after being named captain but the World Cup armband is among many unknowns. Henry Pyrgos and Grant Gilchrist were named as captain in the previous two games, although the latter was replaced by Al Strokosch after being ruled out of the late win over Italy through illness.
But Cotter has also managed to keep everyone guessing about his final squad with 40 players still in the frame for the 31-man pool, which will be announced next Monday. Seven more players were released on Monday along with cover hooker Kevin Bryce. There are 15 squad changes for the return match against Italy, with Gilchrist also back, and Laidlaw feels the players will benefit from the uncertainty.
"I think it's a good thing," the 29-year-old said. "Vern is quite funny with it as well. He certainly keeps you on your toes. He drops the odd comment round about the hotel and he keeps you going.
"But I think he has done it well and the boys who haven't played, we are all raring to go.
"We have done so much training and players just like to play. We want to get out there and showcase all the hard work we have been putting in."
Laidlaw always anticipated he would have to wait.
"I'm experienced now and I've been patient," said the former Edinburgh captain, who won the European Challenge Cup in his first season with Gloucester.
"I was always getting opportunities to play. I keep myself sharp, train well and make sure I'm prepared so when I get my opportunity I take it with both hands.
"I was happy with my form come the end of the season. Do I feel like I'm a better player? Probably yes, because I needed freshening up. I think I moved at the right time and that has certainly brought me on as a player and as a person."
Laidlaw added: "Vern has been quite open with me when I was going to play. I had the heads up and it's important you build trust in that leadership group with the coaches so you can spread that trust throughout the group."
With Pyrgos following his captain's role against Ireland with a match-winning try in Turin, Laidlaw faces fierce competition for the scrum-half role with the experienced Chris Cusiter and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne also in the frame.
But the intensity on the training ground is not causing friction.
"It's a tight-knit squad and I really think we are developing a culture now under Vern," Laidlaw said. "Vern is massive on that with his background in New Zealand. I really feel it's coming now.
"As scrum-halves we are tight-knit and help each other through games and training, and I believe we are getting that right through the squad. If the standards are driven by performances in training, we are only going to get better as a rugby team."
Laidlaw feels there are other improvements and a growth in confidence taking shape following the point-less RBS 6 Nations campaign.
"We finished strongly against Ireland and finished strongly against Italy at the weekend," he said. "In the Six Nations our second-half performances fell off. So far, that's credit to the conditioning staff.
"We are in good condition so hopefully we can build on that and if we can get our first-half performances from the Six Nations married in with good second-half performances, we will start to become a good Test team."