Why Mike Blair has not been able to concentrate fully on the new United Rugby Championship

Mike Blair’s start to life as Edinburgh coach has been a bit of a whirlwind and the new boss admits he has still to come to terms with the intricacies of the United Rugby Championship.

The new competition, which replaces the Guinness Pro14, has a somewhat convoluted format with the 16 teams subdivided into four mini pools of four.

Edinburgh, who kick off their URC campaign in their new stadium with a home game against the Scarlets on Saturday, are alongside Glasgow Warriors, Benetton and Zebre in the ‘Scottish-Italian pool’.

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The teams will play each other home and away and the winners of each mini pool will qualify for the following season’s Heineken Champions Cup. Clubs will also play the other 12 teams in the URC once, giving each side a total of 18 fixtures.

Edinburgh's Jaco van der Walt is available for selection after recovering from the head knock he sustained against Newcastle Falcons. Picture: Bruce White/SNS

At the conclusion of the regular season, the top eight teams in the URC standing will contest play-offs in a straight knockout format, with the final scheduled for late June 2022.

Edinburgh enjoyed a convincing win over Benetton last weekend in their final pre-season friendly and Blair says he has been so consumed with preparing his team for the new campaign that he has not looked too closely at the new league.

“Simple answer is I’ve not got my head around it,” said the coach, who took over from Richard Cockerill in July. “I’ve looked into it but for the first couple of games I want a lot of focus to be on just them.

“I’m finding there’s lots of things for me to look at like budgets, players, Super 6, selection, training and all these different things – and I’m doing pretty much the attack side of things myself at the moment. But I’ll certainly find time to look into the intricacies of the set-up soon.”

Edinburgh head coach Mike Blair has been hands-on in training as he prepares the squad for the new United Rugby Championship season. Picture: Paul Devlin/SNS

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One consequence of using the mini-pools to determine Champions Cup qualification is that it adds greater importance to Edinburgh’s games against Glasgow and the Italian sides.

The festive inter-city double-header with the Warriors hardly needs more value attached to it and Blair expects the derby matches to be as keenly contested as ever.

“These are always big games, the 1872 Cup games,” said the coach. “They are really high-emotion, high-end games. They’re like internationals that bring the pressure and competition. They are always big games and they will be even more important now.”

Edinburgh head coach Mike Blair has been hands-on in training as he prepares the squad for the new United Rugby Championship season. Picture: Paul Devlin/SNS

Blair revealed that he hopes to appoint a new attack coach following the departure of Duncan Hodge who left the club last month

“I might have someone lined up,” said Blair who was reluctant to give too much away until the appointment is signed and sealed.

Further good news for Edinburgh is that injured trio Jaco van der Walt, Bill Mata and Jamie Hodgson are all on the mend.

“They’ll all be available for selection this week,” said Blair. “Jaco has come back well from his head knock. Bill had issues with his foot. He trained pretty fully today so it’s all looking good and we’ll make a final decision later in the week.”

Hamish Watson remains unavailable having just returned to pre-season training following his involvement in the British and Irish Lions tour. Ben Toolis and Glen Young are also out with longer-term injuries.

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