Seasoned Scotland pro Mike Blair still excited by life on tour

By Jim MasonBBC rugby reporter on tour with Scotland
Scotland scrum-half Mike Blair

On Tuesday night Mike Blair will win his 81st cap for Scotland when they face Australia in Newcastle, New South Wales.

The former Edinburgh player has worn the number nine jersey on more occasions than any other Scot. In a distinguished career he's scored seven tries for his country, enjoyed the ups and endured the downs.

If ever a player has earned the tag of 'senior player' then it's Mike Blair.

His longevity in international terms was recently brought home to him over lunch with Ryan Grant, the uncapped prop who has been named in the team to face Australia on Tuesday.

"We were speaking about what number of cap you were," he told BBC Scotland. "I was the 958th cap for Scotland and we worked out that Ryan Grant was the 1030th, so I've seen 72 people win their first caps. I've been around for a wee while."

With that longevity comes responsibility, a task Blair is happy to take on.

"There are two sides to responsibility," he said. "There's off-pitch and on-pitch.

"I'm not one to be a schoolteacher and say 'you can't do this or that', but you hope that the way you conduct yourself rubs off on people.

"On the pitch I use my experience to help people in different circumstances. You pat them on the back because you remember what it was like when you were that age."

The Scots have embarked on what will be an extremely difficult tour after seven straight defeats, a losing run that included losing all their matches in this year's Six Nations.

Blair's experience will be invaluable in trying to buck Scotland's losing trend but he does not believe the team is dwelling too much on the past.

"With youth and inexperience one thing is certain, you get a carefree attitude," Blair asserted. "Youngsters don't carry baggage."

While Scotland have struggled this season, Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors have had relatively successful forays in both domestic and European competition.

Blair was part of the Edinburgh team which made it to the Heineken Cup semi-final and admired the way Glasgow made it to the RaboDirect Pro12 play-offs.

He believes a synthesis of the two Scottish pro-teams could provide success on the international front.

"If you can fuse the bits and bobs of each, for example the ruthlessness of Glasgow, then we're heading in the right direction," said Blair.

"Scotland had opportunities; we need to finish them off. We need to stay focussed for 80 minutes, not 50."

For such a seasoned international, one would think there would be no tour surprises for someone like Mike Blair. Not so.

The 31-year-old revealed: "I've got a boy at home who's two-and-a-half and it's the first time he's said to me, 'I miss you, when are you coming home?'

"That has made things different. This is the fourth time I've been to Australia but this time it's a different kind of excitement."

The last time Scotland played Australia in 2009, they beat the Wallabies at Murrayfield. Blair believes Scotland can do it again on Australian soil and he's counting on the assistance of an old friend - the weather.

"The forecast for Tuesday is wind and rain, those were the conditions in 2009," he added. "Hopefully we'll stifle their creativity."