Mike Blair on Scotland’s Preparation and Progress

At the beginning of this week, Scotland Assistant Coach Mike Blair spoke to the media. The former player discussed a number of issues, from the Peter Horne head-butting incident to what a possible win against Argentina could mean for this Scotland squad.

Mike Blair (left) is an Assistant Coach in Gregor Townsend’s (right) Scotland set up. (Photo: Autumn Internationals 2018)

Peter Horne head-butt incident

It is no secret that many Scottish Rugby fans were unimpressed with the decision to take no further action against South African captain Siya Kolisi after he was cited for an apparent head-butt on Scotland’s Peter Horne in the visitors 26-20 win at BT Murrayfield last weekend.

Mike Blair discussed the decision briefly, saying: “The fact is it’s fairly subjective about what happened, and what the circumstances within it were. I understand there was something about an arm being held back, or that there was an extenuating circumstance.

“You know, you slow it down in the cold light of day, and it doesn’t look like a good challenge, like a fair challenge. But, as I say, we can’t do anything about it now.”

After such an occurrence, this weekend in their match against Argentina – the last of Scotland’s four Autumn Test match ups – the Scotland coaches and players alike will surely be hoping that any repeat performance will not go unnoticed, or unpunished, by the referees.

World Rugby will hopefully ensure that match officials are alert to such dangerous acts, especially since there has been such a spotlight shone on guaranteeing that player welfare is paramount to any other aspect of the game.

Possible player tiredness

Scotland have chosen their team wisely for this their last of four tests, as player tiredness could – and most likely will – be having a greater effect on their game performance than if it were their usual three test autumn series.

Head Coach Gregor Townsend and his coaches took this into consideration all along however, as Blair explained: “Yeah, there’s definitely a plan in place for that. Summer tour for example, where you’ve got three games in three weeks, then we’d always taper off that last week. But with the four games, it’s important that guys get opportunities for a number of reasons.

“One is that we’re kind of running out of games before the World Cup, so we can see guys getting some experience before that. But also, bringing in fresh players. So, we can still very much put out a team that’s going to win this game, and it might be that some players come in a little bit fresher and ready to go, and prove their place.”

One thing which will most likely raise a player’s profile, is if they have an ability to create – and most importantly utilise – opportunities in the game against Argentina. Something which the Scotland side were not very successful in during their loss to South Africa.

So hopefully this mind-set will have instilled itself in the players who have been chosen to run out against the Pumas, and we will see many a darting centre break, flying wingers and barnstorming scrummaging performances.

Comparisons to summer tour Argentina match

It has not been too long since these two sides have come up against one another, for it was only this summer that Scotland claimed a 44-15 win in Resistencia, Argentina. And so, they will have a fairly sound idea of what they are coming up against this Saturday at BT Murrayfield.

Blair said: “Yeah, they’ll have a lot of the similar personnel. So, in that sense, strengths and weaknesses of the individuals don’t change. But they are a more aligned unit now, so that means we’re going to have to play a lot better than we did [in the summer tour encounter].”

Looking ahead to the World Cup

If Scotland manage to emerge from this weekend’s clash victorious, then that will see them end their autumn test series 2-2 on wins and losses. In the run-up to next year’s World Cup in Japan, Blair discussed the importance of that margin saying: “It’s important that we win games, definitely. This last game is a great opportunity for us.

“It would have been disappointing if South Africa had been the last game of the autumn test series. So, this game allows us to finish this block feeling really positive about what we’re doing, and making sure that we’re improving with each game we play.”

Another factor of preparing for a World Cup is determining what players work best in which positions, and also, what combinations will prove most profitable to your team. Asked if he thought this Scotland still had enough time to experiment, Blair explained: “At international level, you need to be really comfortable with what you’re doing, and we’ve got plans in place for how we want to deal with certain players and the amount of rugby they get, or that they don’t get.”

“So yeah, they’ll be some new blood coming in, but I wouldn’t call it experimenting.”

Many fans will be waiting with baited breath to see what kind of performance Townsend’s Scotland team can produce this weekend, when they kick-off at BT Murrayfield on Saturday at 2:30pm against the Pumas.

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