Resurgent Blair battered but unbowed

After testing his injured left shoulder against one of the most feared tacklers in world rugby, Scotland scrum-half Mike Blair is confident he is ready to reclaim the dark blue number nine jersey when Ireland visit Murrayfield next Saturday.

It was Blair’s misfortune that he was making his comeback from injury at the same time as Jason White was returning to action from the knee injury which has kept him out of action since last November.

It meant that when it was time for Blair to take contact on the shoulder it was White who was handing out the punishment.

“I’ve been working with [Scotland team physio] Stephen Mutch and Jason White doing some pretty tough contact sessions,” said Blair.

“It was fine when we were doing drills in which I was allowed to try and beat Jason and then he tackled me, but in the earlier stuff we were doing I had to jog along the line and wait for Jason to hit me. That’s not much fun at all.

“We’ve been doing that since early July, then the contact stuff with Scotland started on July 16, and earlier this week we had an internal 10-a-side tournament which was another step up.

“There has been no reaction in the shoulder at all – so I’m feeling good.”

Blair was only starting out in his international career when he travelled to Australia for the 2003 Rugby World Cup. He is now one of the more experienced players in the squad, and he is delighted with the way Scotland’s preparations for France 2007 are going.

“The thing I’ve enjoyed about this summer is that it has been more settled,” he said.

“Apart from this week in St Andrews we’ve been in Edinburgh the whole time, so I’ve been able to stay at home – whereas four years ago we were all over the place.

“The facilities at Murrayfield have been brilliant. Mark Bitcon, our fitness coach, has put together a really enjoyable programme, and I think it has been highly beneficial to everyone involved.

“It’s been good fun and everyone is improving a lot. Hopefully you will see that coming through when we play the games.”

He may be in a positive frame of mind, but Blair is careful not to look too far ahead too soon.

“There are some days when training goes really well and you think to yourself that there is a possibility of us doing something good here, but it is very hard to look past these early games,” he said.

“We need to gauge how we do against Ireland and South Africa, because although they are unlikely to be complete performances by us, they are important stepping stones into the World Cup.”

365 Digital

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