Laidlaw still hoping to lead Scots
Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw believes he is still the man to lead his nation into the World Cup.
Critics have questioned whether t he Gloucester scrum-half is the right person for the job since he skippered the Dark Blues to a humiliating RBS 6 Nations whitewash earlier this year.
The emergence of rival nine Sam Hidalgo-Clyne - the Guinness Pro12 young player of the year - at Edinburgh following Laidlaw's departure last summer has only increased speculation that he may find his position under threat.
Grant Gilchrist, who was the man originally picked by Scotland boss Vern Cotter to captain the team during the Six Nations before injury ruled him out, is also back fit and hoping to win a place in the New Zealander's 31-man World Cup squad.
But Laidlaw is not giving up the role just yet.
And after helping his new side claim the European Challenge Cup - with a 19-13 win over Edinburgh in London - the 29-year-old insists he is playing some of the best rugby of his career.
Asked if he felt pressurised by his former Murrayfield understudy's recent displays, Laidlaw said: "No. I think I have been playing well also. I played well in the Premiership for Gloucester, I won the Challenge Cup with Gloucester in my first season. I am only 29 years old and I still have a hell of a lot to give to the Scotland jersey."
But Laidlaw will have to step things up when the Scots kick off their Pool B campaign against Japan at Kingsholm on September 23.
During last year's autumn Tests, he responded well to Cotter's demand for speed around the breakdown.
But as the half-back slumped back into a sluggish tempo during the Six Nations, Scotland suffered.
Laidlaw, though, has held talks with the Kiwi in recent days and confirmed he is ready to take on the responsibility of leadership once more should Cotter stick by him.
"I am going into this with the same mindset as I have always had," he said. "Whether I am captain or not my position [of scrum-half] demands that I am a leader anyway so I will do that every session anyway and demand that of myself.
"I also demand high standards from the players around about me so that's what I''ll do and what will be will be.
"We've got a few new players in the group and I've been helping them to acclimatise. Being a captain is hugely important and that's part of my job. I think leading by example is the way to do it and I think if the boys see that I come out hard and put the work in then hopefully they will follow suit.
"I have spoken to Vern a couple of times about the captaincy issue and a couple of other things and what comes out in due course will happen. I respect Vern and he respects me and the players respect me as well and whether I am captain or not I will still be the same player and the same person."
Laidlaw and his colleagues have just completed the first three-week segment of a gruelling three-month build-up to the tournament in England.
They will be given a chance to rest their weary bones next week before training is stepped up ahead four pre-World Cup Tests against Ireland, Italy (twice) and France.
Cotter is leaving nothing to chance with a programme that has ranged from scientific tests of the players' physical capabilities to mountain hikes aimed at strengthening squad spirit.
But Laidlaw admits keeping the players mentally sharp is one of the biggest challenges facing the former Clermont Auvergne coach during the long run up to the finals.
"The long build-up is one of the toughest things to deal with," he said. "Everyone is talking about the World Cup, but as players we have to take things day by day. Some boys will pick up knocks and injuries, but that is just part of the game.
"I think we need the long build up to prepare because we had a poor Six Nations and we need to get things right and make sure that we get out of the group.
"The World Cup still seems a long way off for us as players. We have a week's rest now and we will keep ticking over and then come back in for another three-week block and another four-week block.
"Although the World Cup is so far away as players you always have one eye on it, it is exciting. We all just want to get there in one piece really."