Mike Blair happy to mentor main Scotland rival

Mike Blair hopes he can help Glasgow on and off the pitch in his dual role. Picture: SNS
Mike Blair hopes he can help Glasgow on and off the pitch in his dual role. Picture: SNS
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MIKE Blair sees no problem whatsoever with the fact one of the main aspects of his new job at Glasgow Warriors will be guiding and mentoring the man he will be vying with for a starting place in the team.

Scotland’s most-capped scrum-half checked in at Scotstoun this week to start a two-year contract with the Guinness Pro12 champions and is looking forward to helping advance the development of Henry Pyrgos, the player who is technically his main rival for the No 9 jersey.

I try to put myself in the position of a coach – someone is going to be upset

Mike Blair

Much of the thinking behind Glasgow coach Gregor Townsend turning to the 34-year-old veteran is the experience and wisdom Blair brings with him back north, which could be of great benefit both on and off the pitch in a season that will be interrupted by both the Rugby World Cup and 2016 RBS Six Nations.

Blair, who left Edinburgh in 2012 for a season at Brive in France before two years at Newcastle Falcons, arrives as a player predominantly but, clearly, the coaching side is something that will develop as the contract progresses.

He said: “In terms of the first year my main emphasis will be playing. But hopefully I’ll have the odd bits and bobs of input, feedback and ideas on the coaching side of things.”

The 85-times-capped scrum-half is looking forward to helping Pyrgos, who is currently part of the Scotland World Cup training squad, as much as competing with him.

“I worked with Henry Pyrgos last year in a kind of mentoring type role,” explained Blair. “Hopefully I can continue that with him and help the other scrum-halves Grayson Hart and Ali Price as well. That will hopefully get me some coaching experience, along with a bit of work with the age-grade sides and the academy. So potentially the second year of the contract I can look a bit more at that side of things.”

He said the idea of mentoring a rival was something he was comfortable with and added: “I was chatting with some of the guys at lunch the other day and we were talking about rivalries. We’ve been doing wrestling in this training block and the difference of how you wrestle against someone in your own position as opposed to someone else. The opensides, Chris Fusaro and Will Bordill, were saying how much they don’t want to lose that battle between them.

“It’s interesting, a lot of my good friends are nines as well. Chris Cusiter and myself played for that Scotland jersey for eight or nine years and we’re good mates, I was just on a golfing holiday with him.

“But there’s almost a realisation of where you are in your career and a maturity and understanding of how coaches pick sides. I try to put myself in the position of a coach now – you’ve got to pick someone, so someone is going to be upset.

“At this point in my career I want to help guys and bring Glasgow as much success as they had this year with the Pro12 as well as pushing on in Europe.

“It might have been a different answer if I was asked ten to 12 years ago about giving tips [to a rival]. But now part of the reason for me being brought here has been to do that and I feel very comfortable with it.”

The scrum-half battle is currently the keenest positional contest in the Scotland squad, with incumbent Greig Laidlaw facing challenges from Pyrgos, Edinburgh’s Sam Hidalgo-Clyne and veteran Cusiter. Blair reckons the jersey is still Six Nations skipper Laidlaw’s to lose.

Blair said: “I think Greig is probably in the driving seat, he seems to have a good relationship with Vern [Cotter] but at the same time all the other guys offer something different.

“Henry had a very good end to the season with Glasgow and Sam has been well talked about with what he did with Edinburgh and has that spark about him. And then Cus, well he’s not going to let you down. He’s the most experienced of the lot and is a very competitive guy.”

Blair is a former Scotland skipper himself and doesn’t believe Laidlaw, who also takes on the main goalkicking responsibilities when he plays, would be under too much pressure.

“Different people react in different ways,” said Blair.

“Some people love that responsibility.

“People talk a lot now about shared responsibility and leadership groups. You expect everyone to have an input. I’ve not been involved with the Scotland squad for a couple of years now. A lot of personnel has changed and it probably depends how much emphasis is put on the captaincy.

“A captain can have a tough time and have to be speaking with the media a lot and dealing with the team.

“But if he’s got strong leaders around him he can hand off some of that responsibility and it becomes a much easier job.”