Mike Blair urges Scotland players to follow Liverpool star’s lead

Scotland assistant coach Mike Blair wants the young ?players in the squad to take a leaf out of Liverpool and ?England footballer Trent ?Alexander-Arnold’s book and show “fearlessness” as they continue the build-up to the World Cup.

Assistant coach Mike Blair studies other elite sports teams to try and learn tips that may give Scotland an edge. Picture: SNS/SRU
Assistant coach Mike Blair studies other elite sports teams to try and learn tips that may give Scotland an edge. Picture: SNS/SRU

Blair admits he keenly 
studies other elite sporting environments to try and learn tips that may give the Scotland squad an edge heading into the showpiece event in Japan which starts in September.

This Sunday, Champions League winners Liverpool are in Edinburgh to take on Italian side Napoli in a friendly match at BT Murrayfield.

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend is keen to attend with his coaching staff if they can and Blair, the former scrum-half who earned 85 caps for his country and toured with the British & Irish Lions, has a lot of admiration for Jurgen Klopp’s men.

And he pinpoints the quickly taken corner by 20-year-old Alexander-Arnold which led to a Divock Origi goal in the 4-0 win over Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final at Anfield in May as the type of quick thinking Scotland’s players can learn from going forward.

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“I have not heard the update, but there was chat about going to the game on Sunday,” Blair said.

“Learning from other teams is really important. There is an example from Liverpool when they took a quick corner, that kind of stuff can translate into what we do.

“From a defensive point of view we are about always being switched on and never turning your back while, from an attacking point of view, you are trying to create opportunities where you are against unstructured defences. It is about getting a balance in a squad, a balance of opinions and experiences. You need your guys who have been there for the last seven or eight 
years, but you also need your guys who have been there for a year.

“The young guys bring the fearlessness, the energy and the exuberance to the group, you need to harness that.”

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Meanwhile, Blair believes the current Scotland squad can beat any team in the world when they play at their best, but has warned that the gap between the team’s top 
performances and their bad days needs to significantly 
narrow heading into the World Cup.

In the last 18 months Scotland have really hit their straps to defeat England at BT Murrayfield (25-13, February 2018), Argentina in Resistencia (44-15, June 2018) and Fiji at Murrayfield (54-17, November 2018).

They also dramatically bounced back from 31-0 down to draw 38-38 with England at Twickenham four months ago, but when they have not been on form the level of performance has dropped drastically.

With four World Cup warm-up games coming up soon against France and Georgia, who Scotland will 
play twice each in August and early September, Blair wants the side to find more consistency. In the showpiece event they will then take on Ireland, Samoa, Russia and the hosts in Pool A in Japan from September onwards.

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“We feel that if we play to the best of our ability we can beat any team in the world, but there is a big jump between playing to the best of your ability and not,” 38-year-old Blair said.

“There are things we need to get right, but if we are able to put 
exactly what we want on the pitch, we have a chance of being able to beat anyone in the world. Consistency is absolutely 
crucial for us. Throughout the Six Nations earlier this year 
we had some moments of 
brilliance.

“There were long periods when we were all over the opposition – 30, 40 or 60 minutes in the Italian game for example [Scotland eventually won 33-20]. But we’ve also had periods in games where we’ve almost fallen off a cliff. That last 20 against Italy and the first half against England, for example. That consistency of performance is something that we as coaches have been focusing on and trying to get that message across to the players.

“Everyone is talking about the Ireland game at the World Cup and, yes, first up, all eyes will be on that one, but we’re also aware that if we don’t play to the best of our ability in the other games then they are potential banana skins.”