Mike Blair backs Ali Price to banish his Principality Stadium demons

Ali Price is tackled by Ken Owens back in February
Ali Price is tackled by Ken Owens back in February
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Former Scotland scrum-half Mike Blair has backed Ali Price to banish his Principality Stadium demons if he is handed the No 9 jersey again for Saturday’s first November Test in Wales.

Price had an afternoon to forget as the much-hyped Scots flopped badly in the Six Nations opener, ending up on the wrong end of a 34-7 hiding.

The 25-year-old, who had risen to earn the starting spot ahead of Greig Laidlaw for that game, was penalised early for a squint put in, which led to Wales’ first try, and then threw an interception pass for their second as the wheels came off for Gregor Townsend’s men in the cauldron of Cardiff.

Price was not released back to Glasgow for the weekend’s Guinness Pro14 loss at Munster, while scrum-half rival George Horne was, and national skills coach Blair is confident he will step up if selected for a Test that will only feature Scottish-based players due to it falling outside the international window.

Blair, who won 85 caps for his country said: “Players like Ali will have learned a lot from that himself, he’ll know different things he’ll do and different situations.

“Yes, it was only in February, but a lot has happened since then. Ali in particular has come back in real form over the last two months or so, a lot has happened in that period. There will be things we’ll talk about and might change a little but I think a lot of it is experience for guys who’ve been out in that environment and know what it’s like, and they’ll be able to learn off the players around them as well.

“A lot of those conversations and interactions will happen on the pitch and they’ll help each other out.”

Blair admits he still shudders at the memory of that afternoon when almost everything that could go wrong did for Townsend’s men before they bounced back with home wins over France, England and away to Italy to finish third in the tournament.

“We didn’t perform well as a team so we didn’t give the individuals the tools to perform to the best of their ability,” said Blair. “If you have that support network it allows individuals to perform well so we didn’t do that, and it’s something we want to do this week.”

The former Lion said that harnessing the disappointment of that match will play a part as the squad prepare this week before flying to the Welsh capital on Thursday.

“It is definitely part of the process,” said the coach, who combines his national role with Glasgow. “We have talked, going in the Six Nations, about how that first game was going to do and ultimately were very disappointed with how it ended up.

“I still have the final score, 34-7, flashing in my mind and that scoreboard on the final whistle. That is something that really hurt us because we thought we were in a good place to get the championship started with real momentum.

“It was disappointing but it fuels it a little more as well. You don’t need anything extra to play for your country but that was a really disappointing result for us and something we definitely want to put right.”

The Welsh will be missing the likes of Northampton stand-off Dan Biggar and have a few injuries but will be far closer to full-strength than a Scotland side missing its Exiles and star full-back Stuart Hogg to injury.

Facing another home union outside the Six Nations is a bit of a novelty but Blair warned his players to be braced for the usual ferocity that comes from red jerseys in the atmospheric stadium, which will have the roof closed on Saturday.

“They really raise their game,” said Blair. “When they are playing at home with the roof closed it is an intimidating atmosphere but we have players who are capable of raising the level, increasing the physicality and really challenging them. We believe that is an area we have to go at them in.

“In autumn games they get to choose [on the roof], so it will be closed for the game. With the roof closed, you would think it is a dry ball and you can fling it around. We have had this discussion a couple of times but if it is a nice day and the roof is open it is better than when the roof is closed because you create a sweat on the ball.

“You have 80,000 people in a confined area sweating alcohol from every pore – it is an interesting place to be – and you do create a sweat on the ball.

“The handling, though you think it is going to be a lot better, a lot easier, it does create a grease on it.

“International rugby is about playing in these types of environment and the best way of doing it is when you are with your backs to the wall and you have 70,000 people out against you, It will be a great experience for the guys.”