Scotland assistant coach Mike Blair is confident that Ali Price will bounce back all the stronger thanks to the challenge posed by George Horne. Price has had a difficult season by his own high standards, and was omitted from some big games in favour of Horne by Glasgow coach Dave Rennie.
The season ended with Horne being the first-choice scrum-half at the Warriors and, in the absence of Greig Laidlaw, the Scotland tour has begun with the 23-year-old in the unusual position of being apparently the first-choice No 9 for the national team, too – despite having yet to make his debut. Both Horne and Price should be named tomorrow in the squad to play the United States here on Saturday, and, whatever happens to the pecking order over the next two weekends, Blair, below, who still works with the Warriors in addition to his national duties, is confident that the competition will be good for the pair.
“It is hard to take, but I was better for it,” said Blair, who in his own Scotland days had a fierce competitor for the No 9 jersey in Chris Cusiter. “I played better rugby once I had been challenged for that position – I started most games under Frank Hadden’s reign for two or three seasons.
“The previous season he [Price] had good runs and he built on that and there are times when your resilience is challenged. That has been the situation with Ali. From his perspective, it has given him a bit of a kick and he will be a much better player for it.
“We were pleased with how Ali played off the bench in the Six Nations. He had some good game management and he helped to close a couple of games out. A couple of games he spurred things up like the France game and managed things well.
“From a Glasgow point of view it was not a case of ‘Ali, you’re struggling’, it was more George Horne had a real impact through the season.”
One possible reason for Price’s dip in form is that Finn Russell, his half-back partner for both Glasgow and Scotland, similarly had an indifferent season. But Blair pointed out that there were times when the pair were outstanding, and suggested that Russell would rise to the challenge of a new life in France with Racing 92.
“Ali and Finn have had a couple of cracking games this season,” he said. “You look back at the Australia and New Zealand games for Scotland – there was talk of them being a world-class combination. That doesn’t change overnight. They’re two quality operators. With some players it’s good to leave and experience something different. Finn is a guy that needs to be constantly challenged.
“He needs something new; he needs to continue to prove himself. It would be great for Finn to come back to Glasgow in a couple of years’ time. He’s signed for three years, I think. Coming back having matured, having enjoyed it – it’s great for him.
“He’ll be playing with world-class players, he has to prove himself, learn French. It will be good for him.
“As a result of him moving on, other players will get a chance. I see Adam Hastings, Peter Horne will get more time at 10, Ruaridh Jackson was at 10 [against Canada]. With Finn playing in France there will be more selection dilemmas.”
Right now, though, the biggest selection dilemma is at scrum-half, not stand-off. And that dilemma will become all the greater should the 25-year-old Price live up to Blair’s prediction and rise to the challenge posed by Horne.