Mike Blair, Scotland’s most-capped scrum-half, is to retire from international rugby, he announced yesterday. While it’s a little bit of old news and certainly makes my upcoming piece on who to choose at scrum-half a little easier, Blair’s decision certainly merits a few words.
Blair, 31, is bringing down the curtain on ten-year international career during which he won 85 caps, skippered Scotland on 14 occasions, toured with the British and Irish Lions in 2009 and became the only Scottish player thus far to be nominated for IRB World Player of the Year (2008).
There were lows such as a failure to make the best account of himself on that Lions tour where he underwent a bit of a crisis of confidence, or indeed his final cap against South Africa when he was ignominiously hooked for throwing a wobbly interception pass.
But mostly we will remember Mike as the one who brought that bit of flair and pace to Scotland in period of stodgy forward-orientated play.
Blair’s former Edinburgh and Scotland team-mate, and the only Scottish back with more caps, Chris Paterson, led the tributes. He said: “Mike was one of the most gifted and naturally skilful players I ever played alongside. His ability to read a game and make the correct decision was brilliant. He was razor-sharp in attack and his defence, especially when chasing back and cover tackling, showed how tough a player he was.
“I think he was involved in every match-day Scotland squad, when available for selection, for a decade which is a real reflection of how good a player Mike was – a great Scottish internationalist.”
Blair himself said: “I’m in the very fortunate position of being able to decide myself when my international career ends. For me, that time is now.
“For me a place in the squad at the Rugby World Cup in 2015 is not a realistic personal target and, with that in mind, it’s right for Scottish rugby and the Scotland team, that other players gain experience in a pivotal position.”
“I have enjoyed immensely representing my country for more than ten years and will miss that exhilarating feeling of running out to a capacity crowd with the whole country behind you. The noise when leading the team out for the first time as captain at Murrayfield against England in 2008, when we won 15-9, still makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up when I think about it.”
Happy memories for Mike – many of the rest of us are probably still trying to erase the vision of Blair pre-empting Gangnam style by 4 years as he danced in his underpants while the the camera unexpectedly cut to that victorious changing room. His role as a joker and morale booster amongst his team-mates should not be underestimated – especially looking at how miserable Edinburgh have seemed without him.
Blair will continue to play club rugby with Brive and is currently considering his options for next year.
While for Scotland Blair was often seen darting through an opposition defence without a care or indeed a supporting runner on the same wavelength as himself, he’s actually been left behind slightly with this one as several long-term teammates such as Paterson, Chunk Jacobsen and Dan Parks have already called time on their time in Navy.
We wish him all the best for the future; a recent post on his brand new blog suggested that he may be aiming for a future involving the written word.