Rugby: Latest line in Blair dynasty ready for Nations Cup

ALEX BLAIR will set off this week for Romania for Scotland A's defence of the Nations Cup determined to bring back experience that will serve Edinburgh Rugby well in his debut season.

The 19-year-old will join older brothers David and Mike at the Murrayfield outfit on the back of a major leg-up as bosses try to fast-track promising youngsters into the professional game.

"It came as a surprise to find I wouldn't be going to the under-20 world cup (in Argentina) with the lads I grew up playing alongside when the call came from national academy rugby manager, Graham Shiel.

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"I was disappointed in a way not to be touring with my friends but the A trip presents a real opportunity.

"There are lots of players I could be alongside at Edinburgh next season so this is a chance to develop understandings while helping Scotland A," said Blair who has been turning out occasionally with Edinburgh Accies in the Premiership.

In fact, in addition to Alex there are 11 Edinburgh players on the A trip which will feature matches against Georgia, Namibia and Argentinian Jaguars – Roddy Grant, Andrew Kelly, Fraser McKenzie, Scott Newlands, Lewis Niven, Kyle Traynor, Steven Turnbull , David Blair, Ben Cairns, Mark Robertson and John Houston – and he adds: "I also was able to get to know some of my new colleagues with the Scotland sevens squad recently when we competed at Twickenham and Murrayfield.

"I didn't get a lot of game time but enough to know what it's like to play in front of bigger crowds and it was satisfying to be part of a squad that produced its best form of the current IRB sevens circuit."

Of the Scots heading for Romania and an opening game on Friday against Georgia who are in the full Scotland side's World Cup section next year Grant, Cairns, Robertson and Houston were all involved on sevens duty.

Adds Blair: "Really, it was a no-brainer for me to try to join Edinburgh. Quite apart from having my two brothers at the club I have supported Edinburgh for a long time.

"They are my hometown team and I have a passion for the city. It was a great day when a contract was offered to me."

On his own acknowledgement it will seem strange to be playing next season alongside individuals who he regarded as heroes in his formative days.

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"When I was growing up I looked to the likes of Simon Taylor, Marcus di Rollo and Chris Paterson for inspiration.

"Chris is still at the club and that gives me an incentive to try to get up to his standard as quickly as possible."

Blair is renowned for versatility but is targeting the stand-off role where he represented Scotland throughout the under-20 Six Nations series which will mean competing with Phil Godman and his brother, David.

"I had a limited amount of game time in the early part of the season but gradually things improved although Scotland under-20s, for all that we had our moments, were unable to produce the perfect game. It's encouraging to learn that every member of the A squad is going to play at some stage even if temperatures reached 37 degrees when Scotland won the Nations Cup last year. The trip is going to provide valuable experience hopefully enabling me to hit the ground running with Edinburgh when I return."

Scotland A coach Sean Lineen said: "It's a development tour for Alex. He has impressed me with his pace when throwing him straight into organising start plays he is not afraid to talk; he has a good skill set.

"He is not scared to take the line on. As a youngster there will be mistakes in his game which we won't get rid of in a couple of weeks. We need to look at his strengths and work on parts of his game. But in terms of attacking skills he is as good as we have got.

"So far as No.10s are concerned Dan Parks and Phil Godman are up there but there is a tier missing and we are right down with the youngsters.

"You have Alex Blair, Duncan Weir and Ruaridh Jackson which is exciting.

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"Stand-offs are only as good as their scrum-half partners who are only as good as the forward pack. But in Greig Laidlaw and Mark Macmillan we have good scrum-halves who can help the stand-offs on this trip."