Anger over Hugh Blake’s Scotland call-up

Vern Cotter says flanker Hugh Blake, below, is the 'best man for the job' despite not having played a full match for Edinburgh
Vern Cotter says flanker Hugh Blake, below, is the 'best man for the job' despite not having played a full match for Edinburgh
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For the second time in 14 years, Scottish rugby is ablaze with controversy centring on a New Zealand-born player being parachuted into international contention without paying dues in the domestic game.

On November 3, 2001, Brendan Laney played his final match for Otago then headed to Scotland on a central contract. November 24 saw him lining up for Scotland against – irony of ironies – the All Blacks at Murrayfield while still to represent the Edinburgh “club” he had been allocated to.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose ... when national coach Vern Cotter announced his squad for the RBS Six Nations Championship, the standout name was Hugh Blake, formerly of Otago, though not the Super 15 Highlanders, and still to turn out for a full Edinburgh side albeit he did appear for an A team around Christmas.

History sees Laney, an affable type who went on to give good value to Edinburgh and Scotland, remembered, in the weighty tome ‘Scotland – Game by Game’: “The main talking point was the controversial selection of Brendan Laney. Born in Invercargill, Laney was parachuted into the side having only arrived in Scotland the previous week and without having played for Edinburgh.”

How Blake, who plays flanker rather than full back but is similarly qualified through ancestry, will ultimately be remembered remains to be seen.

But immediate reaction has been volcanic in some quarters.

Former Scotland and Lions prop Peter Wright had alternatives in mind when he tweeted: “A real slap in the face for Barclay, Brown & Grant who IMO are all playing pretty well. Who Blake?!!” And pressure group ‘Change for Scottish Rugby’, the closest thing to an independent supporters club in Scottish rugby, fumed: “Picking Blake when he hasn’t played a game for Edinburgh is demoralising for all those players sweating blood and tears for the shirt.”

And almost before Cotter had returned from making the announcement, Scottish Rugby fans had launched an internet petition demanding to know why Brown and Barclay, in particular, had been overlooked.

The Evening News put three questions to Cotter at the squad announcement ...

EN: Did you balance this selection against the fact there are a string of aspirants who have dropped one place down the queue today whose motivation might take a hit, maybe temporarily, when they see someone come in who hasn’t played for Edinburgh?

VC: I like seeing people having competition to get into positions. He lifts the level and asks more things from perhaps players who were comfortable with what they were bringing.

“I like to see players striving better to get into position. I want people putting their hands up and saying ‘I want to be part of it’. He has done that and his skills etc bring us something others don’t. If he is best man for the job, he is best man for the job. If someone else can push him out that is great.

EN: Are you comfortable with part of your research on Hugh Blake being video which is one dimensional as opposed to sitting in the stand watching?

VC: Video analysis is quite objective. You can see what they are doing and count up what they achieve. You can then speak to people who have been involved and get feedback and make an opinion. You get a fair idea. For the moment, everything speaks positively. We’ll get a good look at him.

EN: With respect, you said just now everybody is chosen on current form. Hugh Blake hasn’t played at pro level for months?

VC: That is where we back our instincts. There will probably be another loose forward included within the group.”

What is certain is that the controversy overshadowed other calls for uncapped Edinburgh regulars Hamish Watson, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne and Ben Toolis who have emerged through the Capital team’s ranks over the past 18 months.

However, the brutal truth is that importing talent inevitably leads to an edifice built on sand.

But if Scotland fulfil the goal set for them by Scottish Rugby Union chief executive Mark Dodson to win the World Cup later this year followed by the 2016 Six Nations, then this will be a storm in a tea cup that is soon blown out.

Place your bets ...