MIKE Blair has decided to retire from international rugby and hand interim Scotland coach Scott Johnson the opportunity to blood fresh scrum-half talent in the forthcoming RBS Six Nations Championship.
Earning 85 caps in 11 years, the 31-year-old has been a Scotland regular recently and, despite moving to Brive in France’s second division, proved in the recent autumn Tests that he was as fit and skilful as ever. But Blair explained that he was keen to retire at the top and so his 85th Test match against South Africa will prove to be his last.
Chris Cusiter is yet to return from injury, which leaves Greig Laidlaw primed for a return to scrum-half in the RBS Six Nations, with Glasgow’s Henry Pyrgos and Rory Lawson also in the frame. Blair said that there had been no pressure from Johnson to step aside. “It’s something that has popped into my head quite a bit over the past six months or so and I wanted to see how we would cope as a family with the move to France and to-ing and fro-ing for the autumn Tests,” he said.
“And the next big target on the horizon in terms of cycles is the 2015 World Cup and that’s not a realistic goal for me. The younger guys need a chance to gain experience before 2015 so, for a few reasons, this is the right time for me.”
Johnson said: “I really enjoyed working with Mike during the summer tour and the more recent autumn Tests. There’s no doubt he’s a quality international rugby player and a quality bloke. I respect and understand his decision and, on behalf of all Scotland fans, thank him for his years of dedication to the national team.”
Blair has been a close friend to Chris Paterson, who retired a year ago, and Paterson praised his impact on Scottish rugby. He said: “Mike was one of the most gifted and naturally skilful players I ever played alongside. His ability to read a game and make the correct decision was brilliant. He was razor-sharp in attack and his defence, especially when chasing back and cover-tackling, showed how tough a player he was – a great Scottish internationalist.”