Greig Laidlaw says he is over Scotland's agonising World Cup quarter-final defeat by Australia. But it is clear he isn't.

Who can blame him? One of the abiding images of this year's tournament was the faces of Scotland's stunned players after South African referee Craig Joubert whistled them out of the tournament before sprinting from the field for reasons to this day known only to him.

Laidlaw - the heartbroken Scotland captain - had wheeled around in disbelief, ready to plead with the official. He needn't have bothered. Joubert was already halfway up the Twickenham tunnel.

Moments earlier, Joubert had declined to refer a decision to the television match official, preferring instead to rely on his own eyes to make the most important call of the tournament.


By awarding a penalty to Australia for intentional offside when every replay showed he should have awarded a scrum, Joubert got it wrong. Badly wrong.

Bernard Foley's penalty condemned Scotland to arguably the nation's most painful defeat in history and robbed Laidlaw's men of their first appearance in a World Cup semi-final in 24 years as the Wallabies won one of the tournament's great matches, 35-34.

'People will look back on that scoreline and think, "Scotland came close", but they'll never feel what we felt,' the Scotland captain told The Mail on Sunday in his most wide-ranging interview since the World Cup. "The dressing room was a dire place to be after that. There were boys in tears. Some boys were pretty angry. There was anger that we'd lost and anger at the decision.

'It's the first time I've ever been clapped into a press conference. It was a pretty surreal experience. Looking back now it was weird and something hopefully I will never be involved with again.'

Overnight the 30-year-old scrum-half, who would be many people's first-choice No 9 if the Lions were playing tomorrow, will run out in front of more than 70,000 at Twickenham as Gloucester - where he has settled since signing from Edinburgh in 2014 - take on Harlequins.

It will be his first appearance at English rugby's HQ since that fateful quarter-final. 'I've only watched the quarter-final once,' he said. 'I can't stomach to watch it again. I'll think about it for ever. Life goes on and if we can have a successful Six Nations we can deal with the heartbreak. If we go on and have a poor tournament it will linger and linger.

'I'm probably not over it [the quarter-final defeat]. I am and I'm not. People meant well but I couldn't walk down the street without people saying what an injustice it was.'

Much of Scotland's sense of injustice - which led to former captain Gavin Hastings labelling Joubert a 'disgrace' for running from the field while calling for him to be stripped of his status as an international referee - stemmed from the South African official declining to use video technology at such a crucial moment.


World Rugby insisted protocols did now allow video technology in that instance, while controversially admitting the referee had made a mistake, but Joubert's decision to ignore rugby's tradition of players and officials shaking hands, poured petrol on red-hot embers.

Laidlaw added: 'He could have handled it better if he'd just stayed there and said, "Look, I probably made a mistake", and shook hands. He probably regrets running off.

'We were told after the game we couldn't use the TMO in that situation. I just think that's madness. If he'd have gone to the TMO and said, "Look I'm really not sure here, I need to check this", no one would have complained for the minute-and-a-half or two that it would have taken.'

For some, Joubert's blunder overshadowed a hugely impressive campaign for Scotland, who will face Eddie Jones's England at Murrayfield on February 6 at the start of the RBS Six Nations.

They had stood toe-to-toe with the Wallabies, playing a brand of running rugby not seen from the men from north of the border since Laidlaw's uncle Roy formed the beating heart of the side who won the 1984 Grand Slam.

Whisper it, but young players such as centre Mark Bennett, fly-half Finn Russell and full-back Stuart Hogg appear to have the cutting edge required finally to transform Scotland from rugged, braveheart defenders, into a world-class outfit capable of challenging for higher honours.

The encounter with Jones's England will be the first time Laidlaw pulls on a Scotland shirt since the fateful quarter-final. 'I'm pretty sure they won't underestimate us,' he adds. 'We know what happened at the World Cup will be for nothing if we have a poor Six Nations.'

Over it? No chance. Stronger for it? Unquestionably.

- Daily Mail