HUGH Blake will finally get an opportunity to show the Scottish rugby public what all the fuss has been about when he plays his first professional game in this country for Edinburgh against the Ospreys at Myreside this evening.
The 22-year-old breakaway – who was controversially parachuted into Scotland’s Six Nations training squad just six weeks after arriving from his native New Zealand on a trial contract until the end of the season – has been named at openside flanker for tonight’s match.
Blake has featured for Melrose in the BT Premiership, and played for Edinburgh A against Glasgow A in December – but tonight’s match will be a major step up for the youngster, who qualifies to play for Scotland through his grandparents.
“Hugh has been working with the national squad and this gives him an opportunity to play,” said Edinburgh head coach, Alan Solomons.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND MOBILE APPS
“You can see that he has come through a good school of football in the broader sense. He played New Zealand Schools’, New Zealand under-20s and he’s been involved with the squad at the Highlanders, so he’s been exposed to very, very good systems. He’s a skilled footballer. He’s obviously very motivated and very keen, and this presents him with an opportunity.”
Solomons is not concerned that the hullabaloo which greeted Blakes’s rapid elevation into the national set-up may have unsettled the youngster.
“Now that he is playing, that is part of what he needs to manage and I need to assist him in managing it, but I don’t see it as a problem. He is looking forward to the game and that’s where his focus is. The only thing he can control is his performance on the field,” said the coach.
Blake, who only hooked up with the Edinburgh squad on Tuesday having spent the previous two weeks working with Scotland, is not the only debutant in tonight’s team who has recently jetted in from New Zealand; however winger Damian Hoyland’s Scottish credentials are far more clear-cut.
Born and raised in the capital, he attended James Gillespie’s High School before moving into senior rugby with Boroughmuir. He switched to Melrose at the start of the 2012-13 season, and after six tries in 11 appearances for the Scotland under-20 team, he signed a two-year contract with Edinburgh at the start of the current campaign.
Hoyland was on loan to the Scotland Sevens squad competing in the Wellington leg of the HSBC Sevens World Series last weekend, where he was the tournament’s top try scorer with seven touchdowns and was selected in the World Rugby ‘dream team’ for the event. Then life got even better for the 21-year-old when he received an SOS call from Solomons.
“It has not been easy for him because he flew from New Zealand on Sunday night. He only got back on Wednesday but he practised today [Thursday] at the captain’s run and he is mustard keen. The Sevens has done him a world of good and it’s just great to see him get this opportunity,” said Solomons.
Jade Te Rure gets his first start for the club at stand-off, with Tom Heathcote looking to make an impact off the bench after recovering from an Achilles problem which has kept him out of action since late December.
The match has been moved to Myreside as BT Murrayfield is out of commission ahead of Scotland’s RBS Six Nations clash against Wales on Sunday.