Greig Laidlaw was all too aware of the illustrious history of The British & Irish Lions when he received a late call up from Warren Gatland to the 2017 Tour to New Zealand.
Following in the footsteps of his uncle Roy, also a scrum-half who featured in all four Tests against the All Blacks on the 1983 Tour, Laidlaw had long aspired to don the famous red jersey.
Not one of the three No.9s originally selected due to an injury he sustained during the Six Nations, his chance to achieve his ambition arrived after Ben Youngs withdrew due to family reasons.
And while Scotland’s most-capped captain was unable to crack the Test series team, Laidlaw cherished every moment of his maiden Tour as he lived out his boyhood dream.
“Once I had the phone call from Warren Gatland, all the emotions came through in terms of that excitement and straight away you think about the history of the Lions,” he said.
“Potentially you’re going to get a chance to wear that jersey, so I was really excited and nervous at the same time to understand I had a chance to achieve a boyhood dream.
“Anybody that has played rugby in Britain and Ireland, once you get to that professional level and playing for your country, I think it’s something everybody aspires to.
“It’s probably because of the real history of the jersey, whether that’s watching previous Test matches or the Living With Lions series, there’s just that awesome history behind it.
“I think everybody as a player is desperate to have a small part of that so it was an awesome Tour to go on, especially as it was down to New Zealand.”
MAKING HIS LIONS DEBUT
Despite not being included in the original 41-man squad, Laidlaw did not take long to make an impression and was thrown straight in for the opening match of the Tour.
He started alongside Johnny Sexton in a hard-fought 13-7 win over the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians, scoring his only points of the Tour with a crucial 42nd-minute penalty.
“I was selected to play against the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians, and it was awesome,” he said.
“I think for me it didn’t really hit home until we’d done the warm-up before the game.
“After the warm-up, we were going back into the dressing room and when I came back I saw my Lions jersey hanging up on its peg and almost looking back at me.
“It had my name and stuff embroidered down the bottom of the jersey and I just had that sort of realisation that I was about to pull on the Lions jersey and become part of the history of this incredible jersey and incredible team.
“It was such an exciting time and we couldn’t wait to get out there and get the game started. I think Sexton picked up a bit of a knock as he was actually kicking on the night.
“He said to me, ‘Would you just knock this one over?’ and thankfully for me it was bang right in front of the posts, it was one of the easier ones I’ve had and the game itself wasn’t too pretty.
“It was a horrible night, tough conditions and the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians had their tails up a little bit, it was a bit of a World Cup final for them but we were able to rally.
“We got the team off to a positive start which was awesome and that set us on our way.”
LAIDLAW’S LIONS MOMENT
Laidlaw went on to feature in six of the seven Tour matches, making a telling contribution in the thrilling 31-31 draw with Hurricanes in between the first and second Tests.
Pouncing on a loose pass deep in his own half, Laidlaw charged upfield before offloading the ball brilliantly after being tackled to compatriot Tommy Seymour to run in under the posts.
But for Laidlaw, who spent a total of 269 minutes on the pitch in New Zealand, his fondest memory of the Tour was playing in the 34-6 victory over Chiefs before the first Test.
“The game against Hurricanes was pretty good, not getting a draw because we probably should have won the game but it was good to be involved in,” he said.
“But I think my favourite memory was the Chiefs game down in Hamilton. I think the boys who played in that game had a real excellent spirit going into the game, we really enjoyed the two or three days build up.
“We really produced an excellent performance and I think, if memory serves me correctly, that was one or two games before the Test series started and it really buoyed the whole squad up.
“It gave us a little bit of momentum going into the next game. I think just that team spirit of the boys that played in that game and Besty [Rory Best] was captain.
“We’d had a good few days in the lead up and we’d had a couple of beers two or three days before that game as well and we were just all on the same page.
“Once you do that, the performance just sort of came together. We had a few characters in the team in Haskell and boys like that as well so we all had a great laugh.
“I remember Jack Nowell scoring a fantastic try, pretty much the length of the field as well, so just little moments like that and when you think back to 2017 you can’t believe it’s been four years.”
WATCHING FAMOUS SERIES DRAW
The series against the All Blacks saw the Lions fightback from losing the first Test to snatch a historic 1-1 draw after Owen Farrell slotted a penalty three minutes from time to level the final match.
And while Laidlaw admitted it was “weird” at the final whistle as both sides came to terms with the dramatic conclusion, he felt privileged to be part of a successful Lions Tour.
“It was awesome to be a part of and be with the squad, obviously there is no getting away from the fact that when anybody goes on a Tour everybody wants to play in the Tests,” he said.
“So obviously I was disappointed from that point of view but if you’re going to go on a Tour like that you want to be part of a positive Tour and one with a good outcome.
“It’s about being a positive person and once you’re not selected it’s getting over that disappointment and just pulling forward for the sake of the squad.
“I truly believe that the boys did a fantastic job. Obviously New Zealand played extremely well in the first Test and we were probably under a bit of pressure.
“To bounce back in the way they did, firstly in the second Test and then also in the third Test as well because New Zealand were on top for large parts of that game and the boys dug deep.”
One thing is for certain, Lion #810 has no regrets from his time as a tourist and the Scotland legend will forever treasure the opportunity to etch his name into history.
“I think what I look back on fondly is just the opportunity to pull on that jersey,” he added. “It’s got such history and all that behind it and when you become part of it you want to play well.
“You want to be a success in the Lions jersey, so I think I got six games, a few starts, a few off the bench, so just any time to get on the field and get minutes in the Lions jersey is awesome.”