MIKE Blair has hardly enjoyed the smoothest of starts to his summer stint as Scotland’s interim head coach, but he has insisted that he is happy with the squad he has been able to select for today’s ‘A’ international against England at Welford Road.
Blair, who is taking charge for this game and next month’s full internationals against Romania and Georgia while Gregor Townsend is on Lions duty, lost nine squad members on Thursday because of Covid protocols. One tested positive and another eight were identified as close contacts and told to self-isolate, leading Blair to draft in five new players to his squad.
That means the team for the game in Leicester have had little time together in training, but the coach is confident nonetheless that his players can rise to the occasion against a strong England side and stake their claims for places in the two July Tests. “I’m really pleased with the squad we’ve been able to put together,” Blair said yesterday after belatedly announcing his matchday 23. “You would think that with the players missing we would start to struggle, but I’m really pleased with the team we’re able to put out.
“All we can do is do the best we can, and through other people’s misfortunes other people have the opportunity to shine and show what they can do. We’ve not had a huge amount of time together as a squad, but we have a lot of talent in the squad. We want them to put their hands up and show they can make the step up to international rugby.”
Leicester centre Matt Scott, who has 39 caps, takes over as captain from the absent Jamie Ritchie. But there are also a lot of players who are untried at this level, and Blair knows this match will be a test of character for them against formidable opponents.
“We’ve got a good record against England recently, and in our last couple of England A games as well,” he continued. “We want to see how our guys play, how they react to different situations they’re put in.
“So if guys play really well in this game against such a top-quality team as England A, then that’s going to raise their stock even more. So I’m delighted to be playing against a strong team and seeing how we react to that.”
England A (v Scotland A at Welford Road, Leicester, today 2pm): F Steward; A Radwan, O Lawrence, D Kelly, M Malins; J Umaga, H Randall; E Genge, C Langdon, J Heyes, H Wells, C Ewels, L Ludlow (captain), B Curry, C Chick. Substitutes: J Blamire, B Obano, T Davison, T Hill, L Ludlam, D Robson, G Furbank, J Cokanasiga.
Scotland A: D Hoyland; R McLean, M Scott (captain), S McDowall, B Kinghorn; R Thompson, C Shiel; N Auterac, E Ashman, O Kebble, C Henderson, K McDonald, J Bayliss, R Darge, M Bradbury. Substitutes: A McBurney, R Hislop, J Sebastian, J Hodgson, C Hunter-Hill, B Vellacott, A Hastings, G Taylor.