For Greig Laidlaw, the memories of playing rugby with his friends in Jedburgh have never left him.
The former Scotland captain may have had a distinguished career that has taken him all over the world but the friendships he made all those years ago endure.
Laidlaw is passionate about the importance to communities of grassroots rugby and the benefits it brings to the mental health of those involved, which is why he is backing a campaign from the SRU titled ‘Everyone’s Game’ to encourage players, coaches, referees and all who volunteer to return after the pandemic.
Greig Laidlaw’s memories of playing rugby with his friends in Jedburgh have never left him
In a study commissioned by the English, Welsh and Scottish rugby unions to look at the role community rugby plays in the UK, findings showed that creating ties to where people live, getting them talking to each other and forging friendships were the key benefits of being part of a local rugby club.
Eighty-six per cent of those involved said playing and being involved in their local team or club has a positive impact on their mental health.
Research also found that for 75 per cent of players, not being able to properly participate during the pandemic has had a negative impact on their mental wellbeing, while over 58 per cent said what they missed most was the team chats and camaraderie. A further 38 per cent missed having rugby as an outlet for day-to-day stresses, exacerbated by the pandemic.
There has been concern that numbers may drop off in Scotland after Covid and already amateur side Hawick Harlequins — a club Laidlaw knows well — has had to pull out of the league pyramid, which kicks-off this Saturday, due to lack of numbers. More than 200 teams (men and women) will participate across the Tennent’s leagues in Scotland during the 2021/22 season.
‘Some may not bother going back, which I hope is not the case,’ said Laidlaw from his home in Japan where he plays for NTT Communications Shining Arcs. ‘I’d like to think most people will look at it the other way and the good things that rugby brings.
‘In my time at Jedforest, there was a community spirit, a togetherness of a small town, playing rugby against bigger teams from bigger communities. That sense of achievement was big for us and brought pride as a group.
‘It was great fun. Everyone has been through some tough times and people can have fun and achieve a few things along the way. Hopefully we’ll get back to that.
He spoke to Sportsmail from his home in Japan where he plays for NTT Communications Shining Arcs
‘When you get back involved with your local club you are getting back involved with your local community and there is a sense of togetherness which is what we all need just now. That is something we all can get enjoyment out of.
‘The pandemic has taught me that if you have people who really care about each other, it makes a huge difference for everybody.
‘Having a community spirit again through rugby is vital. The great thing is that you can get so much enjoyment together through rugby. The club rooms at Jed were full after games. The second and first teams would have a pint together and that atmosphere and sense of belonging is vital at this time.’
Laidlaw may have played all over the world but some of his closest friendships are from his amateur days at Jedforest. The ex-British and Irish Lion added: ‘When I think back, the first thing that comes to mind is the sense of togetherness we had at Jed. We were lucky. I was a youngster getting to play with my mates the game we all loved.
Laidlaw has played all over but some of his closest friendships are from his amateur days
‘I still have some of my mates from those times. I started with Jedforest minis, came though the system to Jed Thistle then to Jedforest after the Under-18s. I have fond memories of those days.
‘I was able to play with both my cousins, Clark and Scott, in the sevens. I have great memories coming through and stay in touch with many pals from then. To meet the boys in the street or pub and relieve old memories when I am home is fantastic.’
Laidlaw says the unsung heroes of club rugby are the volunteers, refs, those who get the pitch right and others who work behind the scenes.
‘At the time, you don’t realise the commitment coaches make, giving up their time to help people like me as a youngster,’ he said.
Laidlaw says the unsung heroes of club rugby are volunteers, refs and those behind the scenes
‘There are always people who stick in your mind from those days you want to thank. For me it was Brian Colvin, my coach at Jed Thistle, who encouraged me as a youngster. Then there was Chico Woods, the time and commitment he gave to the club was awesome.’
Another benefit Laidlaw got from rugby was the impact it had on his mental health, the positivity and lessons that helped him mature.
‘Rugby helped shape me as a person,’ said the ex-Edinburgh, Gloucester and Clermont player. ‘The way rugby is played, in terms of its values, the discipline it gives you. You must work hard, have fun at the same time but stick within the rules. You can channel a lot of energy into it. I had good coaches who helped make me a better player. I’ll always cherish that.’
The National Lottery is supporting Scotland’s return to community rugby and Scottish Rugby’s Everyone’s Game initiative. For more details visit: https://bit.ly/EveryonesGame2021