Obituary: Jim Blair, Scot who helped All Blacks achieve major victories

James Blair, fitness trainer. Born: 26 November 1934 in Shettleston, Glasgow. Died: 29 July 2020 on Gold Coast, Australia, aged 85

Jim Blair helped the All Blacks to major victories

Jim Blair, the Glaswegian whose fitness routines played a huge part in the All Blacks' win in the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987, has died in Australia, after a prolonged battle against dementia.

Blair was from Shettleston and educated at Eastbank Academy before, in 1953, he crossed the city to study at the Scottish School of Physical Education at Jordanhill College.

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Back then Blair was a footballer; he represented the College, played in the juniors for Shettleston, Vale of Clyde and Pollok and had a spell in the senior ranks with Queen's Park and Hamilton Academical.

On obtaining his Diploma in Physical Education, he joined the Royal Air Force as a PE instructor, representing his Group and Command football teams during his five years' of service.

On leaving the RAF, he spent a year teaching in Ramsey, in Cambridgeshire, before deciding to try his luck on the other side of the world, in New Zealand.

There he obtained a PE teaching post as Department Head at Rangitoto College, East Coast Bays, Auckland. The school is today the largest in New Zealand.

In 1971 Jim Blair moved into teacher training, becoming a lecturer in PE at North Shore Teachers College. A decade later, North Shore was amalgamated into Auckland Teachers Training College and today it is part of Auckland University.

In 1981 Jim Blair decided to branch out, establishing his own business, the Institute of Sport and Corporate Health, in Auckland, which he ran until 1991.

While there, in 1987, he developed his revolutionary grid system for player fitness, which was quickly picked-up by the All Blacks.

This system is widely credited, by both the coaches and players involved, in making the All Blacks the fittest team, and the eventual winners, at the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987.

While running his own gym, he was retained as fitness consultant to Auckland Rugby – a post he held for 18 years – Canterbury and the Queensland Reds at club level. In international rugby, he advised the 1991 All Blacks' RWC squad, Western Samoa, Fiji and Samoa Women.

He was Fitness Director for the New Zealand Rugby Foundation between 1991 and 1997, but he was also called upon to lend his fitness expertise to the 1987, 1988 and 1992 New Zealand America's Cup yachting squad, the Japanese America's Cup squad in 1992 and with Chris Dickson's 1995 Louis Vitton Cup entrant Tag Heuer (NZL39).

On the water he also helped prepare the New Zealand Admiral's Cup team, that country's Olympic sailing squad and Sir Peter Blake's and Yamaha's crews for the Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race.

Blair was also Fitness Consultant for the New Zealand Men's and Women's Black Sticks hockey squads at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, the New Zealand Black Caps cricket squad, the national badminton squad and the lawn bowls squads for the 1994 and 1998 Commonwealth Games.

During this period he made a brief return to Scotland, when the SRU asked him, in 1990, to hold three fitness masterclasses for club coaches.

He also had a two-year stint as fitness coach to Bath Rugby in the English Premiership, between 1997 and 1999, helping them to win the Heineken Cup, under the captaincy of Scotland's Andy Nicol.

Returning to New Zealand he continued his long relationship with Auckland Rugby and branched out into writing, penning a standalone book, Rugby Fitness Preparation, and a series of three books, Fit To Eat, for 30, 50 and 60 year olds.

Jim Blair was a voracious reader, and had a lifelong interest in all sports, but in particular football, which continued after his retirement (or perhaps more correctly, after he decided to slow down).

He had a heart valve replaced in his seventies, and towards the end of that decade he was diagnosed with dementia. The news hit hard and towards the end, when he had to be placed in a care home, he would hatch plans to escape.

Even then, and moreso after the Covid-19 restrictions kicked in, he would walk for miles each day, on his walker. Daughter Katrin said he maintained his fitness regime to the end. Indeed, it was during one escape attempt that he fell and broke his hip. Complications from this accident helped speed his passing.

Jim Blair is survived by his wife Valerie, whom he married in 1962, and by his children: Katrin Iona Te Tai, who followed her father into the fitness business, working under him for a decade at their Auckland Institute of Sport and representing New Zealand at badminton in the Edinburgh Commonwealth Games of 1986; Erin Lynette Blair; and Callum Ross Blair.

A second son, Andrew James Blair, was killed in a car crash in December 1999. Jim Blair is also survived by his 12 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

In its 60 years of existence, the SSPE at Jordanhill College established a worldwide reputation for excellence, with graduates going out to all parts of the globe. Few “Jordanhill Gymmies” travelled as far, and achieved as much, as Jim Blair.

Legendary All Blacks coach John Hart and their great former first five-eighth, Grant Fox, were among the giants of the game who paid tribute to Jim on his passing – a mark of the impact this quiet Scot made on the other side of the world.

MATT VALLANCE

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