Mike Blair demands more physicality from Edinburgh as surprise pre-season defeat forces ‘reset’
SRU chief Mark Dodson spoke recently about the need to “stress” the pro teams, to see how they cope without their Scotland players.
The context was how Edinburgh and Glasgow would manage when they play on the same weekend as Scotland, something they will do at the end of October when the national side takes on Australia.
The match falls outside the international window so Gregor Townsend will likely pick a team comprising only home-based players, leaving Edinburgh and Glasgow seriously understrength for their URC fixtures.
The capital side got an early taste of how it might look when they hosted London Scottish on Friday. None of the Scotland men who played in Argentina was involved, leaving Mike Blair with a squad peppered with fringe players and up-and-comers.
They came off second best against opponents who were leading 34-26 when the game was abandoned with six minutes remaining after a fire alarm was accidentally set off in the Lothian Stand.
The small knot of London Scottish supporters were delighted with their side's performance, and rightly so. The Exiles won just once last season, finishing bottom of the English Championship, but they looked sharper than Edinburgh.
True, Scottish already had a game under their belts, losing last week to Harlequins. For Edinburgh, it was their first outing and they have one more friendly - against Benetton in Italy on Friday – before their URC season kicks off on September 17 at home to Dragons.
Blair felt his side lacked composure but believes they should still have had enough to see off second-tier opponents.
“I’m certainly disappointed and frustrated,” said the Edinburgh coach. “We felt we were in a good place going into the game, we felt that we’d stretched the guys a lot during pre-season with the training.
“I thought at times we lacked a little bit of composure, and whether that was through having not played in a while, or guys trying to push their individual cases rather than making decisions for the benefit of the team, I’m not too sure.
“There’s lots of stuff to come out of that which is going to make us better going into the season, and I guess that’s what the point of pre-season is – but at the same time you don’t want to lose 34 points at home.”
Edinburgh conceded six tries and Blair was generous in his praise of the Exiles but his assessment was damning of his own side.
“I thought they were excellent. I was really impressed with them. We spoke after the game about physicality and intensity, and we got beat in all areas, both sides of the ball.
“There were too many errors. We were over-committing at breakdowns. We just lacked a bit of sharpness and there is no doubt that we’re going to be a lot better for it.
“In a sick kind of way, I’m pleased that we’ve had this at this stage because it really reset things. There is a lot of positive noises coming out the club about some of the environment and culture stuff, and rightly so, but if you don’t turn up at the weekend and bring physicality in order to look after the ball then you are not going to win rugby matches, and that’s what we’re here to do.”
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