Press Pass: Blair on returning players and the derby decider
Get the latest from Head Coach Mike Blair ahead of Friday night's 1872 Cup deciding leg with this week's Press Pass.
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On players returning to fitness
“Blair [Kinghorn] is back training. Mark Bennett is back training. We’ll see how they get through today – they got through most of the stuff today, so I’ll make a decision on the back of that. Chris Dean is still going through the HIA stuff.
“We Goosen and Sam Skinner are also back training ahead of the weekend.
“Emiliano Boffelli’s groin has tightened up a little bit – it’s something we’ve been managing for certainly the last six weeks but probably longer term than that. He has adapted training weeks to enable him to get through it, so he didn’t train today, but we don’t expect there to be any issues for the weekend.”
“Duhan is good. He’s had his ankle, which is why he didn’t play against Castres. When you get a little bit tired, the aches and pains feel a little bit more. But he’s fine, and he trained today as well.
“In the long term we were looking quite healthy, then in the last three or four weeks we started to pick up a few more. We’ll definitely have a couple back this week but probably a couple out as well.”
On the team’s difficult run of matches and losses
“There isn’t any concern. We’ve played really difficult teams. This is a real challenging period for the club from a positive point of view.
“We’ve played Munster at home, we’ve had two Champions Cup games, we’ve got two Glasgow games, then Zebre, then two Champions Cup games again, then we’ve got Sharks to finish it off.
“So, it is a really testing period for the club, and I believe that we’re doing the right thing at the club. I believe that over the season we’re playing good rugby. We’ve had a few areas where we’ve dropped off a little bit, but we’re playing good teams, some away from home.
“I’m confident of the direction we’re going in. Getting as many guys on the pitch as possible obviously helps with the cohesion as well, preventing chopping and changing too much. But I’m pleased with where the guys are at.”
On the team continuing to develop through sticky patches
“Yeah. It’s going to happen. The quality of the Champions Cup and the URC – this is a different competition from previous years, when Cheetahs and Kings were playing.
“They have been replaced by four absolutely top-level South African teams. And on top of that the Irish teams have gone consistently well, the Ospreys are stacked with internationals, Scarlets and Cardiff have got strong squads.
“This is a tough competition and we’re going to go through times when things are a little bit tougher. During the Six Nations last year we had six out of seven away games and it was all panic about losing six out of seven – but they were all away from home and during the Covid period when we didn’t have everyone available as well as during the Six Nations. That allowed guys to get opportunities.
“We’re going to keep plugging away. We’re confident in what we’re trying to do and we believe we’re heading in the right direction.”
On picking up losing bonus-points
“We have been competitive. You can’t win every game. We felt the Saracens game was one that slipped through the net a bit.
“It would have given us a lot of momentum for this tough period, but we played really well and we got a bonus point from it. Castres was a bit sticky, but it was a bonus-point win in the Champions Cup.
“The great thing is that the standards are being set higher. Potentially, last season if we had the same kind of results then it would say were heading in the right direction and it was positive.
“Because of the expectations now of our crowd, and within ourselves, we want to be winning every game. Suddenly, when you don’t, against top-quality opposition, it seems that things are tougher than we are.
“We’re just looking forward to getting stuck into Glasgow. We don’t like talking about things, we want to get on and play and let that do the talking.”
On the opening leg loss
“We felt we put ourselves in a good place to win the game. There was a decent breeze behind us in the second half and we managed the first half well.
“Ultimately, we allowed Glasgow too many opportunities through our turnovers. Some were just little switch-offs, some were skill-based as well.
“In a derby game you can’t give so many outs to the opposition as we did with Glasgow. That’s something we have to tidy up.”
On allowing Glasgow to impose their game
“Yes, in a way, but at the same time we put ourselves back in a position at 50/60 minutes when we were the team in the driving seat.
“There were things in the first half we would have likes to have weathered better, but we had some excellent defence inside our 22 and we didn’t make it easy for Glasgow.
“We toughed it out with them. Against a quality side like Glasgow there will be times when momentum is against you, and Glasgow were able to do what they wanted, but I thought we put ourselves in a position at 10-7 to win the game.”
On if he expects a more open game this Friday night
“It depends. The weather wasn’t great last week and that plays a part in things.
“I believe the forecast is for rain in the morning and that won’t dry up as well as the DAM Health pitch. It will be wet, but you can still play rugby and manipulate a defence when it’s wet underfoot.”