SOME people may find it disconcerting to have a boss who has done their job – all the more so if he has excelled in it. But for Edinburgh scrum-half Henry Pyrgos, the appointment of Mike Blair as the team’s head coach can only be a positive.
Blair excelled in the No 9 jersey all right: his 85 Scotland caps are testament to that. And while his individual skills were outstanding, what really marked him out during his playing days as a potentially successful future coach was his reading of the game.
Ask Blair’s former team-mates about him, and they will tell you that his intuitive understanding of how to play rugby was second to none. Current players who have been coached by him, whether at Glasgow, with Scotland or now at Edinburgh, say he challenges them to think on their feet during games, urging them to see openings as clearly as he did.
Pyrgos, for one, believes such a challenge is a good thing. The new head coach wants Edinburgh to be a little more inventive than they were under Richard Cockerill, whom he succeeded in July, but he also wants to retain a fair amount of the structured approach which was employed by his predecessor. If he is to succeed in that aim, he will need the players to understand when to improvise and when to take the pragmatic option.
“Obviously Mike was a brilliant player and he’s a great coach to work with,” says Pyrgos, who has 28 Scotland caps himself. “It’s nice to have someone here who’s played in your position. He understands, and he can definitely give me a lot of help with my game. When I was with him at Glasgow, and with Scotland briefly, he’s always given me invaluable information, so I’m sure I’ll get more of that.
“Now he’s doing it more globally as the head coach, so he’s not just focusing on the 9s, he’s got a lot of stuff on his plate. But it’s great to have someone like that to give you insight into how he sees the game, which has been really good.”
Now 32 and going into his fourth season with his current team, Pyrgos was with Glasgow when Blair rounded off his playing days there, and has also worked with his new boss with the national team. That foreknowledge may mean that Blair’s approach does not come as a shock, but it is still a stimulus.
“Mike’s obviously moved on from playing, doing a great job as a coach. It’s nice to know him reasonably well, but obviously we know where the line is, he’s the boss. And he’s got some great insights into the game – he sees it in a really interesting way.
“I’ve worked a little bit with Mike before, so it’s not completely new. I suppose he’s a new, different coach and he sees the game slightly differently. Especially in my position of half-back, he challenges us with our game management. He’s looking at different things, he wants to play a different style, so for us it’s probably just adapting to what he wants.
“We review the game slightly differently. And it’s always changing – it’s only been a few weeks so far really that it’s been going. In the early part of the season we’ll be learning quite a lot as we go.”
There may be some hesitancy in evidence in those early games as players come to terms with their new responsibilities, but after a time the willingness to adapt to what is in front of them should become second nature to the Edinburgh squad. “He wants a lot of variation in our game,” Pyrgos concludes. “He wants us to take space where it’s given, whether that’s run, kick, and all over the pitch.
“He’s challenging us in different ways. If you saw us play last year you would see it was very pragmatic. Mike still wants that, he wants us to make good decisions, because you don’t want to give teams easy opportunities to enter your 22. But he’s challenging us as decision-makers and as a backs group. If the space is there to put in an attacking kick or play into an area or run out of our half – he’s always challenging us like that.”