MIKE Blair’s dream of trying French rugby will be realised next season but in the second division after the Scotland scrum-half confirmed that he will join relegated Brive this summer, writes David Ferguson.
The 31-year-old has been back in fine form for Edinburgh and Scotland this season and is currently keeping rival Chris Cusiter out of the No 9 jersey on the Australasian tour. He will follow a winning display over Australia by starting against Fiji tomorrow
Edinburgh confirmed yesterday that Blair, who The Scotsman revealed had opted to leave the club at the end of the season, had secured a contract with Brive and will head to France on his return from the tour. Blair is Scotland’s most capped scrum-half and will join Gregor Townsend on 82 this weekend as third equal in the all-time cap list. He is also following Townsend to the French club, with former Scotland front rows Tom Smith and Steve Brotherstone having also worn the black-and-white of the Limousin team.
After ten years at his hometown club, Blair said: “I’ve never made a secret of my desire to play in France at some stage and I’m delighted it will be with Brive. It’s a lovely place with an incredible support and I’m really looking forward to meeting up with them. There were a number of considerations that I wanted to take into account for me and my family and Brive ticks a lot of the boxes that matter to us.”
However, Brive are not the high-flying club that the trio of other Scots joined in the 1990s. Brive won the Heineken Cup in 1997, beating Leicester 28-9 in Cardiff and then lost 19-18 in the final the following year to a Bath side captained by Andy Nicol and coached by Andy Robinson. Last season they slumped to second-bottom, eventually finishing 11 points above Lyon – the club that Edinburgh coach Smith has joined – but six behind Bayonne and with relegation lost the chance to qualify for either of the Heineken Cup or second-tier Amlin Challenge Cup.
Blair wanted a different experience and he will get that. It will the first season as a pro in which he has not played in the Heineken Cup and, with costs being cut at the French club, it will take time to rebuild the squad before it challenges again in the top half of the Top 14. But, well aware of what he is going to, the experienced scrum-half is looking forward to a complete change from Edinburgh, experiencing a new culture with his young family and taking a lead role in what Brive hope will prove to be a successful drive straight back to the Top 14 next season.
Blair is, however, very proud of having won his way back into Andy Robinson’s favours and insisted that he is not yet prepared to hand over the Scotland jersey. While there will be concerns among the Scotland management that Blair’s form is more difficult to monitor in the French ProD2, with no European commitments it is possible that his body may also benefit from the move to France leaving him fresher for Test duty, providing Brive are willing to release him.
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