Mike Blair stays calm amid front-row crisis for Scotland
Assistant coach Mike Blair is determined to take a positive view of the front-row injury crisis which has engulfed Scotland ahead of the first autumn Test against Samoa at BT Murrayfield on Saturday.
The country’s most-capped player, Ross Ford, was ruled out the series, which also includes matches against New Zealand and Australia, with a pectoral injury sustained in training last week. The 110-times capped hooker requires surgery and will be sidelined for four months.
The Edinburgh trio of back-rower Magnus Bradbury, loosehead prop Rory Sutherland and hooker Neil Cochrane were drafted into the now 38-man squad yesterday morning.
Ford joins a front-row casualty list which also includes fellow hooker Fraser Brown and looseheads Al Dickinson, Allan Dell and Gordon Reid.
That leaves the unlikely uncapped pairing of Edinburgh’s Darryl Marfo and Glasgow’s Jamie Bhatti vying for the No.1 jersey on Saturday. Sutherland has three caps but has missed a year through injury and only has a couple of club games for Hawick and a bench appearance for Edinburgh at the weekend under his belt.
Stuart McInally is the leading candidate at hooker, with Glasgow’s George Turner set for a place on the bench after being cleared following a head knock against Leinster last Friday.
“This is an opportunity for these guys,” said former Scotland skipper Blair, who now combines his skills coach role with Glasgow and the national squad.
“It is not as if Darryl and Jamie have not been playing regular rugby. Had it been the case they were only getting the occasional sub appearances you might look at that a little closer.
“They have done well in games they have played. They have played against good packs and come out on top.
“I guess what we are looking from them is that consistency. With international players you are looking at consistency of performance. These guys are quick learners and will adapt well to international rugby.”
For Bradbury, the call continues the 22-year-old’s reintegration after he was stripped of the Edinburgh captaincy after he knocked himself out on a drunken night out in the capital early last month. He returned for his club off the bench on Saturday and scored the bonus-point clinching last-gasp try against Ospreys at Myreside.
Blair believes the youngster has done all the right things since his transgression and deserves to be welcomed back.
“Absolutely. You saw that in the Ospreys game. He has a lot of character,” he said. “The way he plays, he is a no-fuss operator. He can just get on with things and prove his own ability. For a young guy, the physical attributes he has got is pretty impressive. He will only get better with time.
“We still expect a lot of Magnus and he has still got the respect of the players, especially the Edinburgh guys who know him well. We saw how he worked on his extras during the summer tour and he will hopefully fit in with us smoothly.”
Blair sees no reason why Bradbury can’t one day follow in his own footsteps and captain his country.
“He has obviously shown that he has leadership capabilities,” said the 85-times capped former scrum-half. “We saw that over the summer in how he trained and how he pulled guys up with him.
“[Edinburgh coach] Richard Cockerill has obviously seen something in him as well. There was an incident and he has been reprimanded for that. He just needs to come back into the Scotland squad and does what he does best.”