Mike Blair: It’s not about me, it’s about the players, says new Edinburgh coach
Nine years after leaving the club as a player, Mike Blair will take charge of Edinburgh Rugby for the first time on Saturday when Newcastle Falcons come north to open the capital side’s new stadium.
It is a significant moment for both club and coach, though Blair was keen to play down his own role.
“I’ve tried to make a really conscious effort for it not to be about me,” he said. “It’s about the players, it’s their journey. We, as support staff, are part of it, we’re helping it, but our job is to make the players feel comfortable and make the players perform.
“This isn’t about me and my first game, this is about Edinburgh’s first game in their new stadium and having the freedom to express themselves and work hard for each other.”
After four years under Richard Cockerill, it’s a fresh start for Edinburgh. Blair has promised to do things differently to his predecessor whose achievements were considerable but whose departure was prompted by more than a whiff of player power.
The new man knows he needs to get the squad on board as he tries to impose his own personality and says he has been heartened by their willingness to embrace his methods.
“We have tried to do things a little bit differently from what has happened before,” said Blair. “I’m really impressed by how quickly guys are picking things up, offering their own opinions and working collaboratively to find a way we are comfortable playing.
“I’m also aware that this is the first hit out we are going to have so expectation of effort and skill levels will be really high, but there might be a couple of things that take a bit of time to bed in.
“I’ve been looking forward to this since about three weeks ago. I’ve been desperate to get this first game done to see where we are at and see the boys expressing themselves and playing well.”
Since the coaching change was made the Edinburgh players have stressed the importance of retaining the discipline, high standards and defensive solidity instilled by Cockerill. But they also want to burnish that by playing with more freedom.
Edinburgh under Blair are expected to be more attack-minded and more creative. He said his coaching style was shaped chiefly by the two men he worked under at Scotland and Glasgow.
“I think my biggest two influences would probably be Gregor and Dave Rennie,” he said. “They are both outstanding coaches who got to what they wanted to do really successfully but did it in completely different ways. So I take a bit of each of them and try to find a bit of common ground between them because they are probably both at different ends of the spectrum with how they did things.”
Summer signings Henry Immelman, Ben Vellacott and Luan de Bruin will all start for Edinburgh against Newcastle but notable omissions include club co-captains, Grant Gilchrist and Stuart McInally, prop WP Nel, new centre James Lang and Scotland wing Darcy Graham.
“We’ve decided to keep a couple of guys back who will potentially have heavier workloads this season,” said Blair.