Mike Blair appointed new Edinburgh Rugby coach as club seek ‘tactical and cultural development’
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The capital club believe the former Scotland captain is the right man to develop their “tactical approach, winning mentality and culture”.
Cockerill left this week “by mutual consent” after four years in charge of Edinburgh who endured a difficult campaign last season, finishing fifth in their six-team Pro14 conference and suffering a heavy defeat in Europe at the hands of Racing 92 in the last 16 of the Heineken Champions Cup.
While there were extenuating circumstances, with Edinburgh denied access to their Scotland players for the vast majority of the season, the club were criticised in some quarters for their style of rugby, with Cockerill seen as an authoritarian coach.
Nevertheless, the former England hooker had a transformative influence on the side, toughening them up and guiding them into the knockout stages of Europe in each of his four seasons in charge. They also reached the semi-finals of the 2019-20 Pro14 but the side’s inability to win knockout games proved their Achilles’ heel.
Blair, who played for Edinburgh with distinction for over a decade, has spent the past five years as part of the Scotland coaching set-up.
He had a short stint as interim head coach of the national team during the summer while Gregor Townsend was on Lions duty in South Africa and was supposed to take charge of three matches but they all had to be cancelled due to Covid.
He has clearly been identified by the Scottish Rugby Union as having the qualities required to be a head coach and will now look to revive Edinburgh.
Blair described it as a “watershed moment” for the club who will compete in a new competition next season – the United Rugby Championship – and in their new purpose-built stadium on the Murrayfield back pitches.
“The first emotion is one of pride,” he said. “I’ve lived in Edinburgh most of my life, played 11 seasons at the club and still live in the city, so having that attachment combined with the opportunity to lead the squad is really special for me.
“I’ve learned a lot from working with quality coaches like Dave Rennie, Jason O’Halloran and Gregor Townsend, in particular, and over the years, and have been able to develop and adapt a philosophy that I feel should benefit the talent we have at the club.
“It’s a really exciting squad. There’s a good balance of experience and backgrounds and I’m looking forward to getting to know the players and their strengths better so we can mould that into making Edinburgh both good to watch and successful.
“It’s also a really good time to come in with all the excitement around the launch of the new stadium this summer. It’s a massive, watershed moment for the club. We all want to get that packed out with supporters from the outset and build an atmosphere the players deserve and the fans can be proud of.”
Blair, Scotland's most capped scrum-half, also played for Brive, Newcastle Falcons and Glasgow Warriors.
He finished his career at Scotstoun and then became assistant coach at Glasgow, combining the role with his Scotland duties for a spell.
Working alongside Townsend, he has helped Scotland lift the Calcutta Cup three times (2018, 2019 and 2021) and pull off notable away wins over England and France in this year’s Six Nations,
Douglas Struth, Edinburgh Rugby’s managing director, said Blair was the right candidate to develop the club’s “tactical approach” and “culture”.
“We’re delighted to welcome Mike back to the club as our head coach, having watched his development into a first-rate coach over the past six years,” said Struth.
“Not only does he bring that expertise, but Mike is also a local man, a club centurion, and somebody who became a home-grown legend in an Edinburgh Rugby jersey.
“That’s really important to us and is a fantastic illustration of our ambition to promote and develop local stars of the future.
“It’s a new era for the club, with a new stadium and new tournament formats, and we believe Mike is the right man to continue the development of our tactical approach and winning mentality on the field, and our culture and connection to the wider rugby community off it.”
Mark Dodson, the SRU chief executive, added: “He’s an exceptional Scottish coach who is hungry to deliver success for a club he cares a great deal about.
“He’s done a fantastic job of developing players in all of his roles, many of whom have shone on the biggest stage for Scotland and, more recently, the British and Irish Lions.
“We’re looking forward to watching him and the club develop further, together, as the beginning of this new era for Edinburgh Rugby, targeting a regular return to the knockout rounds of domestic and European Cup competitions and competing for silverware in the seasons ahead.
“His existing knowledge of the player group and lasting affinity with the club’s fanbase make this an excellent and exciting appointment.”
Edinburgh returned to pre-season training this week and their first matches of the new season are home friendlies against Newcastle and Benetton scheduled for mid-September.
The new United Rugby Championship kicks off on the weekend of September 24-25-26, with Edinburgh and Glasgow joined by the clubs from last season’s Pro14 and the four South African Super Rugby franchises, the Bulls, the Stormers, the Lions and the Sharks.
Edinburgh will not play in the Champions Cup in the new season, having failed to qualify.