EDINBURGH Accies stand-off Alex Blair is relishing the opportunity to pit his wits against club sides from the other home nations when the 2013-14 British & Irish Cup kicks off this weekend.
With four Scottish-based sides involved – as well as London Scottish – the tournament has yielded a number of benefits for those taking part during its first four years, including more fans coming through the gates and the opportunity for club players to shine against professional outfits.
Accies and Gala are at home this weekend, hosting Pontypridd at Raeburn Place and Aberavon at Netherdale.
Ayr, London Scottish and Stirling County travel to take on Jersey, London Welsh and Munster A respectively.
Speaking at yesterday’s Murrayfield launch, Blair – a Scotland A cap – said: “The British & Irish Cup is a challenge we’re really looking forward to. It’s an opportunity to see where we’re at as a club. We have a young team with a few older leaders.
Blair, who has been offered the chance to train again with Edinburgh after rebuilding his career following lengthy injury problems, added: “It’s an exciting time for us playing two professional teams in London [London Scottish and London Welsh] and we can’t wait to go down and see how we fare against them.”
Blair’s sentiments were shared by representatives of the other competing Scottish clubs. Gala centre Chris Auld said: “It was a really good experience for us playing in this competition last year. You’re playing against players who are conditioned a step up and you realise you have to play to 100 per cent.
“We had Lee Millar last year who stepped up to the plate against London Scottish and he ended up earning a contract with them.”
Ayr back-row Andrew Dunlop said: “There’s a massive buzz around the club after getting back into this tournament. It’s a huge benefit to the club and our community.
“There were a couple of changes at the beginning of the season with Kenny Murray moving on to Glasgow Warriors and some players moving away. However, there is a nice unity building now and the confidence is growing. We had a good win last weekend against Hawick and we’re hoping to take that on to Jersey.”
Stirling County back-row, Jamie Swanson, said: “We’re very excited about playing in the British & Irish Cup again this year. You can have a lot of fun being the underdog because you can be underestimated.
“The competition is a different level to the RBS Premiership and we hope it will bring more fans down.”
With London Scottish and Edinburgh Accies in the same group this year – the only pool with two Scottish Rugby members in it – there will be much anticipation built around the derby.
London Scottish club captain Lewis Calder, son of Scottish rugby great Jim Calder and nephew of Finlay, said: “The British & Irish Cup is a competition we all look forward to. Playing Gala at Netherdale last season was a great experience and, as an Edinburgh boy, the games against Edinburgh Academicals this year will be fantastic occasions for both sets of supporters and players.”