The Scotland captain who may have played his last international – Laidlaw faces up to uncertainty

Rugby World Cup Pool A: Japan v Scotland
Venue: International Stadium, Yokohama Date: Sunday, 13 October Kick-off: 11:45 BST
Coverage: Live on BBC Radio Scotland, Radio 5 Live, plus text updates on the BBC Sport website and app.

The desperate unpredictability of Scotland’s future, or otherwise, in this World Cup is best illustrated by Greig Laidlaw, who is preparing to captain his country against Japan on Sunday while at the same time knowing that he may have already played his last game in the blue jersey.

Another hurrah or the end? Only a typhoon can decide. If Hagibis spares us, then Laidlaw will lead the team out for a game that might draw the biggest television audience for any rugby match in the history of the sport.

If, on the other hand, Sunday’s contest falls victim to the storm and the Scots are dumped from this championship as a consequence, then the high expectation is that Laidlaw will announce his international retirement soon after.

He’s been a little coy on that one, but when asked about it he says that he’s not getting any younger and that he has a decision to make. It’s his 34th birthday on Saturday. In nine years, he’s won 75 caps. If it happens, his 76th will come as the leader of the team, an elevation after the surprise move to drop the incumbent Stuart McInally to the bench.

Was it a surprise? “A little bit,” he said. “That’s the decision Gregor has gone with and it sits fine with me. I’m probably the most experienced player in the team and it’s a big game.

“I’m more than happy to take on the responsibility, but effectively it changes nothing. We have a Test match to win and that’s what we are all concentrating on.”

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Chandeliers under threat in team hotel

Somehow these players have to shut out the speculation surrounding Sunday and they have to do it while confined to their city centre hotel in Yokohama all day Saturday.

Not one Scottish nose will so much as poke across the threshold. Normally, before game day, they’d have an opportunity to have a gallop, but their preparation this time will consist of finding space indoors to walk through their moves. If the ceilings are high enough, they might have a line-out session. There are a lot of chandeliers in the Sheraton. Their arrows had better be straight.

“We’ll find an area,” Laidlaw said. “It’s just about players having real clarity on their role knowledge. It’s certainly been different to the normal build-up. It’s frustrating that you work so hard to come to competitions likes this and play in these type of games and you can’t control things.

“It’s not Japan’s fault that the weather is coming in, but we want the opportunity to qualify for the quarter-final on merit.

“A back-up plan is something that needs to be looked at. We’re available to play on Monday if needs be. We’re hoping it goes ahead, but first and foremost we hope that everybody is going to be safe in Japan.

“As players we can only control what we can control. We have to prepare like it’s going to happen. We’re playing against excellent opposition and we’re ready to go.”

Laidlaw graphic<!–

‘You can see Japan’s growth’

These chats have been odd this past week, all questions being couched in caution for a game that might never happen. Laidlaw says he can’t allow his players to go there. In their own minds, they have to believe that the Test is happening and that they have to be psychologically prepared for it.

The job facing them is a sizeable one. Jamie Joseph, the Japan coach, seems to think that some other nations have been disrespectful towards his players. Speaking on Friday, as part of a pop at Scotland for raising the prospect of a legal challenge to try to force World Rugby into moving the game to Monday, Joseph sought to remind people that beating Ireland “wasn’t a fluke”.

Nobody suggested it was. Rugby people have been in thrall to Japan since the tournament started, but Joseph still had a go, principally at Scotland.

He seems to think that Scots are of the opinion that Japan want the game abandoned so as to ensure their safe passage to the quarter-final. The reality is that a succession of people from Townsend’s camp have said the direct opposite.

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“The key difference between us and Scotland is we are driven and supported by the whole country,” said Joseph. “My team is motivated by achieving something great – not avoiding embarrassment.”

Townsend laughed it off, but Joseph’s words added edge to an already tense Friday in Yokohama.

Laidlaw can’t get involved in this stuff. For him, it’s the rugby and not the politics of rugby that matters.

“Japan have improved greatly over the last four years,” he said with a nod to Scotland’s 45-10 World Cup win in Gloucester four years ago.

“You can see the growth in their game. Beating teams like Ireland does not happen just by chance. That happens because they are a very good rugby team.

“They’ve improved in the set-piece and in attack and defence. All aspects of their game are better, but we feel we’ve improved as well. We look forward to the challenge and we know it’s going to be a tough one.

“We have to win by more than eight points and that’s in the back of our mind. It’s clear cut, which helps us in one sense. We have to defend extremely well because, as we’ve seen, Japan are an excellent attacking outfit. They’re coached really well and we’re going to have to perform defensively. The way we defended in the last couple of games gives us confidence.”

Confidence that they can win – if they get the chance. That remains a sizeable if.

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