Alex Blair secures pro contract after shining for Accies

THE rivalry may have moved from a back garden in Edinburgh to Murrayfield Stadium, but Alex Blair yesterday warned that he is ready to challenge his older brother in the next stage of his bid to become a Scotland stand-off.

The 19-year-old was confirmed yesterday as a new signing with Edinburgh; his two years in the SRU academy, training with the professional side and outings for Edinburgh Accies proving enough to persuade coach Rob Moffat that it is time he made the step up.

With Alex joining David and Mike, the current Edinburgh and Scotland captain, Edinburgh will become the first Scottish professional side to have three brothers on their books. It is possible that all three could be on the field at the same time as the new recruit has also played well for club and country at age-grade levels in the centre, on the wing and at full-back.

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However, he made it clear yesterday, as he joined his brothers to launch Edinburgh's season-ticket sales, that he views his future in the No 10 jersey, which places him in direct competition with David. He said: "If I hadn't got a contract now I'd be going into a third year in the academy and I feel I need to be pushed now. I've maybe been in a bit of comfort zone, so this will hopefully bring the challenge I need.

"I'm very keen to play stand-off. I've played there from a very young age and played centre a lot as well, and Rob (Moffat] likes the fact I am a stand-off but can play other positions.

"There is a balance because it can be good learning things about other positions, but I want to play the main extent of my rugby at ten and stick at one position, although it's good to play other positions and if that needs to be, that's what I'll do. But Dave was delighted when I got signed. We are all very close, and it will be challenging and competitive, and good fun. I don't think anything will come between us, though, because we're close."

There are ten years between Mike and Alex and six between David and the younger sibling, so while the three have grown up together it was at very varying stages of their careers and, perhaps unsurprisingly, considering David left for Sale Sharks from school before returning to Edinburgh, the entire trio have never played against or with each other at any level.

As club captain, Mike Blair acknowledged he would have to be careful not to either favour his younger brother or treat him more harshly, but he smiled as he insisted Alex could look after himself. Clearly, however, the skipper is pleased to have someone of Alex's talent soon to be at his team's disposal.

"It will be quite an interesting experience," Mike said. "Alex has been around a wee bit through the academy set-up and has trained with us, but it will a bit of a shock to the system having Dave and him there every day in the gym and at training I think.

"But it will also be an interesting dynamic how we help each other out and pass on advice, or step back and keep quiet. We obviously know each other better than anyone else knows us, and hopefully will know the right thing to say at the right time; when to push the other and when to sit back and leave it. So that side of things will be pretty beneficial.

"And, though I haven't watched Alex play a whole lot through his career so far, I have watched him with the Scotland Under-20s and in some Accies games this season and he definitely has an ability to create, to beat a man and you can't buy that quality.

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"We have a lot of solid players in Scotland, but that flair to be able to beat a man one-on-one or to create something out of nothing, is something that Alex can bring to the squad."

As to how he will cope when his brothers start fighting for the stand-off role with each other as well as incumbent internationalist Phil Godman, notably when Godman is on Test duty, he just smiled broadly.

"I think they will handle that fine," he added. "It's not the players that make the selections, but the coaches. You train as hard as you can and when you get the opportunity to play you play to the best of your ability, and it's then out of your hands, and they both know that.

"It's all about opportunities, which isn't easy with only two pro teams in Scotland. I think Phil (Godman] has improved a hell of a lot because he's had a sustained period of rugby week in week out. Dave hasn't had a huge amount of games in the last couple of years, so it's about him and Alex taking opportunities. Alex might have to bide his time a bit or play in other positions in the back line, and learn, but he knows that he has to take whatever opportunity he gets, just the same as any player here."