Blair on pre-season opener

Blair on pre-season opener

Get the latest from Head Coach Mike Blair as he spoke with media in the build up to Friday night's pre-season opener against London Scottish at DAM Health Stadium.

On facing London Scottish and Bryan Redpath

“I don’t know how much hands-on coaching Bryan is doing. I thought he was more Director of Rugby. He’s a competitive guy, so I’m sure if he’s around he’ll be doing something.

“We’re pleased to get this fixture in the diary. We had real changing of opinions on what we wanted to do going into the season.

“Originally, we believed the season would start a week later, so we were going to play London Scottish, Benetton, and then have a weekend with no game then go into the season.

“But it’s cut back a little bit, but I’m pleased with how it’s ended up. We’ll give some guys reasonable game time [against London Scottish], other guys will start to integrate in, and then the same with Benetton and Dragons as well.

“It’s a real mish-mash. This is probably one of the hardest bits of the job – how to manage the players, how to bring them in so that when they play for us they’re actually hitting their straps. It’s not like ‘I need a game to get into it’, so what we do in training is really important.”

On Emiliano Boffelli’s return

“Boff is ongoing. We don’t have to manage him. We’ve got a certain number of Scottish guys who we have to manage – play a certain amount of rugby, get rest at certain periods.

“Boff, we don’t have to do that – but we also appreciate that you want to get the best out of people throughout the season. You don’t just want to burn them out completely by November.

“His last game is in South Africa, so we’re just catching up in the next couple of days, He needs some visa stuff to do and he needs a little break as well. We’ll hopefully see him in October.”

On Boffelli’s performance against the All Blacks

“I sent him a crown as a WhatsApp emoji. He’s been great. We’ve been in touch – no real detail or anything, just ‘How’s it going? How’s training? Are you enjoying yourself?’ – all that kind of stuff.

I think he’s keen to get back. My understanding is that he really enjoyed last season and he’s keen to get back. The first game he played for us was Dragons away on the Friday or Saturday, having played on the Sunday against Ireland. And he played really well.

So he’s just keen to get back playing for us, but we’ve got to manage that with getting the best out of him for the whole season.”

On Boffelli’s impact on the squad’s younger players

“He’s made a big impact. And it’s what we’ve tried to do with our group, where we’ve got a balance of seasoned internationals, seasoned Scotland internationals, guys who bring something different, different opinions.

“Wes can do that with his experiences in New Zealand, and he’s still only 26. There’s plenty of rugby in him.

“Boff takes a bit longer to explain stuff to us, but you learn so much from him watching him. His high-ball stuff has inspired all our back-three guys. It will be great to have him back – but he’s doing all right where he is at the moment, isn’t he?”

On the signing of Bruce Houston on a partnership deal

“Bruce has been done for a while. You can only announce them at certain times due to what clubs they’re with or how we want to do it.

Someone like Wes [Goosen], for example, was signed a decent amount of time ago, but because he was with the Hurricanes and we wanted him to concentrate on that, we didn’t announce it.

“We love how professional Bruce is – what a deep thinker he is about his game, how he can improve, how the team can improve. I was pleased with how he played yesterday – he kicked his goals really well and looked balanced and composed on the ball. And he’s Scottish-qualified.

“It’s important that we look after these guys, because there are certain positions where we need to build strength in depth across the whole of Scottish rugby.

On changing attacking styles heading into 22/23

“I think there’s balance to everything. How you prepare as well, there’s balance to that. We don’t want to come in and do 100 per cent new stuff. We need to build on what we did last year.

“We believe we got very close to progressing further. The Ulster game was probably the disappointment. If we’d flipped the result in that one then that was potentially us with a home Quarter-Final.

“We had moments throughout the season and against the Stormers in the quarter-final where it could have been different. We were penalised five metres out when we were nine points behind with five minutes left on the clock and I believe momentum would have been right with us.

“But I also believe you’ve got to adapt and move. If you don’t, then you end up staying the same and everyone else starts moving their game on.

“So to answer your question, I believe we’ve still got out attacking DNA, the DNA of the club, but I think there’s room to manoeuvre things around a little bit as well.”

On building on last season’s success

“I think there’s confidence. Remember, I only came in three weeks before the start of the season and a lot of the stuff we did was on the move, so we didn’t have that block to work on things.

“Now we’ve had a year and I believe there is a really good understanding of what we’re trying to do.

“The players have really started taking ownership of their team, whether that’s standards on field, off field, learning, leading on the field, leading in their own improvement – that’s all stuff I’ve seen them making strides in.

“So I believe that will put us in a stronger position for the season.”

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