Press Pass: Blair on Saracens test
Get the latest from Head Coach Mike Blair ahead of Sunday’s crunch Heineken Champions Cup match against Saracens at DAM Health Stadium with this week’s Glen Moray Press Pass.
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On the story so far
“We were really pleased to have qualified. We were one of the lower URC seeds in the draw, and with that comes a pretty tough draw, so we were playing against Saracens and Castres, who were both in the final of their domestic competitions.
“It’s a tough ask, especially how Saracens started the season – I think they were ten from ten.
“So we were pretty aware of how tough an ask it was going to be, and to get something out of each of the first three games gave us a huge amount of confidence.
“We could have won at Saracens, we won with a bonus point at home to Castres when we weren’t at our best, and then we won away in France too.
“We talked a lot about creating memories but also about what it takes to win in France. And we talked about character and what that looks like.
“So yeah, really pleased to have got through, but there’s a big difference between a home and an away game in the last 16.
“So Sunday is a really important game for us. We believe it will be a great occasion and we’ll give it our best crack to get a home draw in the last 16.”
On what it takes to beat Saracens
“We’ve been looking at the last three or four games, about what it is the difference between winning and losing, the small margins that can happen. Us being in charge of as much of it as possible.
“And we asked about a couple of games if we were doing everything we possibly could within our power in terms of our work rate off the ball, reacting. And we identified this as an area we can get better at, and I’ve definitely seen growth in that side of things.
“When we’re tired we’re not feeling as sorry for ourselves, we’re getting up and saying ‘This is important’, and we’re working collectively as a team to do that. So that’s something that we’ve improved on.
“There are lots of bits of detail. We had a couple of lineouts that went askew in that second half [at Castres] and these are bits that need constant attention. But it’s us creating environments in training where they’re being stressed as well, so training is not too comfortable, it’s making players think and have to perform under pressure.
“These are important in big games, which can come down to small margins.”
On both Scottish teams performing well in Europe
“I didn’t see Glasgow’s game at the weekend, but obviously their breakdown work against us was excellent, their physicality was really good.
“It’s such an important part of the game, because it either slows down opposition ball or massively speeds up your own. We’ve looked at that again, and I think Saracens will go hard in that area.
“I think they potentially underestimated a little bit around that breakdown work in that first game, but they’re really strong in that area as well.
“Ben Earl is excellent over ball and they’ve got other threats as well – Itoje around his physicality. We’re aware it’s a big part of the game and we need to harness the emotion of the occasion into that physicality.”
On the importance of securing a home Round of 16
“It’s really important. We’ve had a little tick in the box that we’ve got to the knockout stages, which is the first thing, but the big thing is can we get that home win? Because that makes a big difference.
“There’s some pretty tough opposition in this competition when it gets to the last 16, a huge amount of quality, so it will be great to get that home game.”
On doing the maths
“No. We’ll look at it nearer the time. I’ll maybe have Top of the Moon next to me. I think we’ll need four clear points from Saracens.”
On players enjoying the win against Castres
“I think there were a couple of beers.
“The guys were sharp [at training] on Tuesday – it’s amazing the difference a win can make. A big win like that refocuses the mind a little bit more and there’s a buzz, there’s a spring in the step. It was a good day’s training.
“We’re also aware what a tough test it’s going to be against Saracens. They’ve looked excellent in the games they’ve played – they were 25 up after 25 minutes against Lyon – they’ve got some players.”