Mike Blair has say on Edinburgh star performer Ben Vellacott's Scotland snub

Mike Blair has encouraged Ben Vellacott to maintain the excellent form he has shown in the early part of the season as the scrum-half tries to break into the Scotland set-up.

Ben Vellacott will start on the bench for Edinburgh against the Bulls. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS

The Edinburgh No 9 was a surprise omission from Gregor Townsend’s 36-man squad for the two-day training camp ahead of the autumn Tests.

Blair can understand why the national coach opted to stick with Glasgow trio Ali Price, George Horne and Jamie Dobie but says Vellacott will be disappointed to miss out.

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He is on the bench for Edinburgh’s home match against the Bulls on Saturday after playing in the club’s first three United Rugby Championship matches. Charlie Shiel starts at scrum-half.

Ben Vellacott was left out of the Scotland training squad. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS

“What we’re trying to do suits his mindset and the way he is playing, but I understand the rationale for him not being in there too,” said Blair, who was assistant to Townsend with Scotland before becoming Edinburgh coach in the summer. “We’ve got Ali, George and Jamie who have been involved for the last year or so.

“So Ben will be really disappointed but at the same time he’s started three competitive games for us in a row and he has excelled in them. But it’s important for him to keep backing that up, and that’ll get him the selection.”

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Blair was delighted to see Mark Bennett recalled to the Scotland squad, having not played for the national side for three years.

“He’s been excellent,” said Blair. “He really hit the ground running and told me he’s really enjoying his rugby which he hadn’t been doing for a while. A player like Mark, when he’s playing with confidence, there aren’t many better than him in Scotland. He massively deserves the call-up.”

Bennett returns to the side for the Bulls match, with James Lang moving to outside centre as Cammy Hutchison drops out. Damien Hoyland has been picked on the wing in place of the injured Ramiro Moyano and there are also two changes in the pack, with Stuart McInally back at hooker and Magnus Bradbury replacing the rested Jamie Ritchie at blindside flanker.

Blair expects a physical game and has named six forwards among his replacements.

“One of the Bulls’ threats is definitely their power game in their forwards and that is something we feel we need to combat,” he said.

Edinburgh v Bulls (United Rugby Championship, DAM Health Stadium, Saturday, 5.15pm)

Edinburgh: Henry Immelman; Darcy Graham, Mark Bennett, James Lang, Damien Hoyland; Jaco van der Walt, Charlie Shiel; Pierre Schoeman, Stuart McInally, Luan de Bruin, Marshall Sykes, Grant Gilchrist (c), Magnus Bradbury, Luke Crosbie, Viliame Mata.

Subs: Dave Cherry, Boan Venter, WP Nel, Pierce Phillips, Mesulame Kunavula, Connor Boyle, Ben Vellacott, James Johnstone.

Bulls: David Kriel; Madosh Tambwe, Cornal Hendricks, Harold Vorster, Kurt-Lee Arendse; Chris Smith, Embrose Papier; Lizo Gqoboka, Bismarck du Plessis, Mornay Smith, Janko Swanepoel, Ruan Nortje, Marcell Coetzee (CAPT), Arno Botha, Muller Uys.

Subs: Schalk Erasmus, Simphiwe Matanzima, Robert Hunt, Walt Steenkamp, Elrigh Louw, Marco Jansen van Vuren, Morne Steyn, Lionel Mapoe.

Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales).

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