MIKE Blair is on course for a gradual move to full-time coaching after signing for Glasgow Warriors on a two-year contract. The 33-year-old scrum-half, who will move from Newcastle Falcons in the summer subject to a medical, will have a mentoring role with the younger players at Scotstoun.
Announcing his move yesterday, Blair said he planned to become a coach in time, and believed that working with Glasgow head coach Gregor Townsend would be an invaluable part of his apprenticeship. “I’m very excited about moving back to Scotland and joining a very ambitious club,” he said.
“I had opportunities to stay in England, but I want to make a further contribution to the game in Scotland and eventually make the transition into coaching”Mike Blair
“One of the reasons I’m moving to Glasgow is the opportunity to work with Gregor again. I played with him when I started out with Scotland and he coached me when he was part of the Scotland set-up, and that was definitely a big factor in my decision to join the Warriors. My aim is to move into coaching and I see Gregor as being a great role model.”
In addition to his duties with the Falcons, Blair has been assistant coach at Ponteland Rugby Club just outside Newcastle this season, along with former Scotland team-mate Ali Hogg. His return to Scotland therefore looks like another step along a well-planned path. “Part of my role will be to help the younger guys develop and it will be good to work closely with the other scrum-halves at the club such as Henry [Pyrgos] and Grayson [Hart],” Blair continued.
“I had opportunities to stay in England, but I want to make a further contribution to the game in Scotland and eventually make the transition into coaching. I’m looking forward to playing in the Guinness Pro 12 again next season and I think the style of rugby will really suit my game.”
Although Blair might well come to be perceived as more of a coach than a player towards the end of his two-year deal, Townsend believes that he still has a lot to offer on the field – not least in providing competition for Pyrgos, Hart and Scotland Under-20 cap Ali Price.
“It’s great news for the club that Mike will be joining us in the summer,” the head coach said. “He has been in excellent form and has started most of Newcastle’s games this season. They’ve been playing a high-tempo attacking game, which brings out the best in Mike and is similar to the rugby we play at Glasgow.
“Mike’s experience and knowledge of the game will be really valuable for our playing and coaching group, and I’m certain our other scrum-halves will benefit from his input.
“We expect Mike to compete hard for a starting place with our other nines next season and in addition bring a wealth of experience and knowledge to the club.” Blair, who represented Scotland 85 times, 14 of them as captain, is the country’s most-capped scrum-half. He was at Edinburgh Rugby for a decade, helping them reach the semi-finals of the Heineken Cup in 2012. Later that year he joined Brive, then returned to Britain with Newcastle in 2013.
He would have made many more appearances in a Scotland jersey but for his long-running rivalry with Chris Cusiter, who first turned out for the country in 2004 and now has 70 caps. Debate about which of the two was the more effective No 9 went on inconclusively throughout the near-decade in which they competed for the jersey.
Cusiter won higher representative honours, turning out for the Lions in a 2005 Test against New Zealand, whereas four years later Blair, a late call-up for injured Irishman Tomas O’Leary, played in three build-up matches but not in any of the Tests against the Springboks. On the other hand, Blair received higher recognition in terms of awards, in 2008 becoming the only Scot to be nominated as IRB International Player of the Year. He was also Scotland’s player of the year then, and was twice named Edinburgh’s player of the year. He played in three Rugby World Cups, in Australia in 2003, in France four years later, and finally in New Zealand the last time the tournament was held, in 2011.
Earlier this season, when his role at Ponteland was under way, Blair explained how keen he was to learn and develop as a coach.
“I have really enjoyed being involved with Ponteland,” he said. “I started in August, the initial reason being I am doing my level-three coaching qualification. I maybe started out doing it because I had to in order to get the coaching badge, but I very quickly began enjoying it and have been getting a lot out of it. I aspire to do something coaching-wise when I finish playing, and Ponteland has been a great place to start off down that path.”
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