As he prepares to help Edinburgh Accies launch their first-ever British and Irish Cup campaign against Pontypridd at Raeburn Place on Saturday, stand off Alex Blair has admitted that his entire rugby career hung in the balance not so very long ago.
The 22-year-old underwent back surgery for a bulging disc after making his only full Edinburgh appearance, against Leinster, in October, 2010.
Months of rehab followed but, having bridged a return to action at the end of last season and the current campaign with a six-game sojourn in Australia, he is an ever-present in the current Premiership and drawing strength from every outing.
Now comes a step up against the leaders of the Welsh Premiership, who have so far beaten Bedwas, Bridgend and Newport as well as drawing against Cross Keys.
And, while making no predictions about if and when he might get another RaboDirect Pro12 call – he is back training with Edinburgh two days a week at a time when stand off resources have been depleted by injuries to Gregor Hunter and Piers Francis – Blair says: “At one stage, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever play again so it’s great to be involved again with Edinburgh albeit being at Murrayfield is a strange feeling.
“My main focus, though, remains game-time with Accies and a meeting with Pontypridd will be a good opportunity, against professional opposition, to see where we are at.”
The trip to Australia came about partly through a connection with Chris Cusiter, ironically once the main rival to Alex’s older brother, Mike, at international level.
“Chris and I share an agent and I was aware that he had the opportunity to get game-time at the Southern District Club in Cronulla, near Sydney.
“So, I made enquiries and found myself on the plane for half-a-dozen matches, mostly second grade since the first team was pretty much cemented in and the player in my position was the league’s top scorer.
“I did get a couple of runs in the top grade, however, and could actually have stayed for another couple of outings as the club had reached semi-final play-offs. But the chance to play on firm grounds had served me well and I was keen to get back for what was always going to be a big season at Accies.”
On returning, Blair found that coach Simon Cross had moved to a full-time appointment as defence coach of Worcester and long-serving skipper Dan Teague had retired.
However, transitions proved to be seamless with Jonny Else stepping up as coach and Greig Campbell taking on the captaincy. Four wins in the first five games put Accies up with the leaders and, although there have been setbacks against Heriot’s and Gala in the past fortnight, Blair reckons true potential was shown in beating Melrose, in which he scored a try. “I don’t believe we will be affected against Pontypridd by the recent losses which were mainly down to basic errors and we are still in the league’s top five.
“Dan Teague had been around for ten years so he was always going to be a miss but we are coming to terms with being a pretty young side nowadays.
“So long as we cut out the errors that have undermined us and deal with the physicality of Pontypridd then I’m sure we can give a good account of ourselves before going on to play London Welsh and London Scottish in our pool matches.”
Meanwhile, preparing for a British and Irish Cup debut for Stirling County away to Munster is former Boroughmuir back rower, Jamie Swanson.
Under-20 cap Swanson, a student in the Capital, insists the decision to switch clubs after Boroughmuir were relegated was one of the hardest he has ever had to undertake in rugby terms.
“One of the main reasons for leaving Boroughmuir to join Stirling was the B&I Cup. In an ideal world, I would have done things differently but the B&I Cup and Premiership were big attractions.”