Blair lauds Scottish scrum-half competition

Scotland assistant coach Mike Blair believes the current competition for the national side’s scrum-half shirt will lead to a rise in quality.

Scotland assistant coach Mike Blair believes the current competition for the national side’s scrum-half shirt will lead to a rise in quality.

The Scots are blessed with No.9 talent having included Sam Hidalgo-Clyne and Glasgow Warriors duo Ali Price and George Horne in the squad currently touring the Americas, whilst Greig Laidlaw is rested

Hidalgo-Clyne, who finished the season with Edinburgh Rugby but will start the new one at Scarlets, started in the 48-10 win over Canada at the weekend, kicking nine points.

Horne, 23, is uncapped for his country but will hope to rectify that over the coming weeks, particularly given his excellent season for the Warriors where he’s also competed with Price.

Blair, himself a scrum-half who earned 85 caps in his playing days, recounted his competition with Chris Cusiter for the Scotland No.9 shirt and the positive effects it had.

“I played better rugby once I had been challenged for that position,” said Blair to The Scotsman newspaper. “I started most games under Frank Hadden’s reign for two or three seasons.

“The previous season he [Price] had good runs and he built on that and there are times when your resilience is challenged. That has been the situation with Ali. From his perspective it has given him a bit of a kick and he will be a much better player for it.

“We were pleased with how Ali played off the bench in the 2018 NatWest 6 Nations. He had some good game management and he helped to close a couple of games out. A couple of games he spurred things up like the France game and managed things well.

“From a Glasgow point of view it was not a case of ‘Ali, you’re struggling,’ it was more George Horne had a real impact through the season.”

In a game that tested out new combinations, Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend opted for Ruaridh Jackson at fly-half against Canada, with the Glasgow Warriors playmaker touching down in the first half.

Lewis Carmichael, Adam Hastings, James Lang and Jamie Ritchie all made debuts, with Matt Fagerson and Horne in consideration to earn their first caps against the United States in Houston on Sunday.

Blair believes that first-choice No.10 Finn Russell’s move to Racing 92 for next season will also aid squad competition for the side.

He added: “With some players it’s good that they leave and experience something different. Finn is one of these guys that needs to be constantly challenged.

“He needs something new; he needs to continue to prove himself. It would be great for Finn to come back to Glasgow in a couple of years’ time. He’s signed for three years, I think. Coming back having matured, having enjoyed it – it’s great for him.

“He’ll be playing with world-class players, he has to prove himself, learn French. It will be good for him.

“As a result of him moving on, other players will get a chance. I see Adam Hastings, Peter Horne will get more time at 10, Ruaridh Jackson was at 10 [against Canada]. With Finn playing in France there will be more selection dilemmas.”