New NZ Sevens coach Clark Laidlaw says he's a Kiwi when it comes to rugby 23 January 2017

Article By: Taranaki Daily News

Don't let the accent fool you - Clark Laidlaw is a Kiwi coach in heart and mind.

The Scotsman takes over the New Zealand sevens programme on June 1, as the man picked to be the long term successor to coaching legend Sir Gordon Tietjens.

Wellington's Scott Waldrom is in charge in the interim, with Tomasi Cama at his side, but it is the former Scotland international sevens player who has been handed the full time gig through to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

If we're talking stereotypes, Scottish rugby is a dour, no frills affair. Passionate, certainly, but highly unlikely to knock your socks off.

No need to fret that the national sevens team will have those sorts of words in their future, with Laidlaw an uncommon breed of Scotsman.

"I've done all my adult coaching in New Zealand, apart from the last two years, so I've been lucky enough to be developed here through Taranaki and the sevens and the Hurricanes," Laidlaw explains.

"I think more like a Kiwi than probably a Scotsman, when it comes to the game. Or I like to think I do. Having that positivity to play, that optimism that if it's on, it's on. I think that's the key."

"The kicking or not kicking, the mauling or not mauling, it's actually a myth isn't it because the All Blacks maul well, and the Hurricanes mauled well last year. The Highlanders the year before kicked the ball more than any team in Super Rugby and won, but having the optimism and positivity to really play when it's on is the key, and something I want the sevens team to have."

Laidlaw is a go-getter.

Over 45 minutes spent sitting at a waterfront cafe in Wellington's Lyall Bay, Laidlaw explained his plans for the sevens team and some of his coaching philosophies.

He spoke of the joy and bringing his family back to New Zealand, saying his two eldest daughters consider themselves Kiwis. One was born here, one bred here, and a third child was created in New Zealand, Laidlaw says. They look forward to settling somewhere near Mount Maunganui, taking advantage of the nearby beaches and the possibility of family walks up the Mount itself.

Laidlaw will even bring his board, taking to the surf there even though he admits, "I'm rubbish".

It's his coaching journey that should provide the most excitement for New Zealand sevens fans, given he isn't a man who settles for the easy path.

"I was a rugby development officer in Scotland and I was really conscious of becoming the same as everybody else in Scotland," Laidlaw says.

"I was comfortable, had good relationships and good networks, I'd played at a reasonable level. I could have probably stayed there and worked my way through the system, but I always thought there was a bit more too it. There was more to the game, and I thought there was no better place to learn that than in New Zealand."

Through a friend in Taranaki, Laidlaw made the move and took up a rugby development role for the region. Over the next seven years he progressed through coaching roles in Taranaki and Wellington, with the New Zealand sevens under Tietjens, and eventually as an assistant at the Hurricanes.

Yes, he may be the first foreign coach of a New Zealand national team, but Laidlaw's coaching career was born and bred in New Zealand.

"I think because the country and the culture of rugby is so ingrained, everybody is always thinking about the game," Laidlaw said of New Zealand's edge in the oval ball game.

"Everybody at the top level's always striving to be better, always looking for those edges, but they're always sharing. The Chiefs and Hurricanes will share a couple of times a year what they're doing. They have little bits and pieces they keep to themselves, but that mentality that everybody is pushing towards the All Blacks helps everyone develop.

"As a result they've produced some of the best players, and they produce some of the best coaches. It's just a cycle, isn't it. If you work hard and don't think about a lot else, you become really good at it."

Laidlaw is excited to be involved with a team that should be heading to the Olympics, having missed out on that challenge during his playing days.

He represented Scotland in the World Rugby Sevens Series, and played at the Commonwealth Games, but the addition of Olympic sevens didn't come until 2016.

With that addition the sport is growing at a rapid rate, and players are starting to click.

"I think during the last cycle, people didn't realise how big the Olympics was going to be. Now everybody is starting to realise what an event it was," Laidlaw says.

"I can only imagine what it's going to mean for Tokyo, when you swap Brazil for Japan as the host nation, it means that a Samoa or Canada will also be in the mix.

"One of 12 teams is going to be able to win the tournament, which is hugely exciting. And slightly scary."

After New Zealand's failure in the men's sevens tournament in Rio, fans have a right to be concerned about the future of the team.

One thing they don't have to worry about is the foreign coach.

His accent may be funny, but he's a Kiwi at heart.