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Blair calls time on Scotland career

Mike Blair, the former Scotland captain, British & Irish Lions tourist and world player of the year nominee, was at pains to stress that the decision had been entirely his own when he announced his retirement from Test rugby yesterday.

Speaking to Herald Sport from his home in Brive, Blair felt it was important to do so because of the timing of his decision.

It came just two days before Scott Johnson is scheduled to give his first press conference as Scotland's interim head coach, so the 31-year-old's decision was bound to invite parallels with the arrival of Matt Williams in that role when the Australian persuaded a group of players, including Gregor Townsend, then the most senior back in the national squad, that it was time to go.

Johnson was the backs coach when  Blair, the longest-established squad member,   was omitted from the Scotland squad for the meeting with Tonga in the last of this season’s autumn Tests, having started the previous two games against New Zealand and South Africa.

However, Blair, who left Edinburgh last summer to join Brive after spending the whole of his professional career in his home city, explained that a combination of personal circumstances and his desire to bow out at the top, had been key factors in his decision.

“My daughter Lucy was born just two weeks before I came back over to play for Scotland in November,” Blair explained. “Life is very busy and rugby-wise as well, so I am very happy with my decision because I always wanted to go out at a time when I still had the potential of being in the national team rather than when my form was falling off.

“It also means Scott Johnson will have the opportunity to field some other players which might not have been the case otherwise.”

“For me, a place in the squad at the Rugby World Cup in 2015 is not a realistic personal target and, with that in mind, it’s right for Scottish rugby and the Scotland team, that other players gain experience in a pivotal position.”

He said he had made his decision in full consultation with the national team management.

“I had spoken to Andy Robinson about it earlier in the season having first started to think about it after the summer tour,” said Blair.

“The fact a coach wasn’t in place at the time I wanted to explain my decision was then a consideration even though  I presumed from early on that it would probably be Scott Johnson who took over. I feel it is important to do these things face to face.”

The first opportunity to do that was when he was home during the festive break, making this the first real opportunity to make an announcement.

Blair has no immediate plans to stop playing rugby, enjoying life as he is in Brive where he has an option on a second year, but he admits he is beginning to look forward towards life after his playing days.

“We’ve settled in very well over here. The whole family is enjoying the challenge,” he said chirpily, noting that it has been strange to watch his three-year-old son Rory start school in France while wife Viv focuses on the new arrival at home.

“We don’t know at the moment whether we are here for a year or five years. Beyond that, coaching is something I’m thinking about. I am quite good at putting that stuff to the back of my mind, but I do get a bit panicky when I think about that.

“However, rugby is what I have done since I left school and is what I know best, so it would be stupid not to remain involved in it.

“I am interested in becoming a specialist skills coach, but whether I want to become a head coach is another thing.

“I read an article with Ewen McKenzie [the former Australia coach] in which he pointed out that, if you are a head coach, the coaching side almost becomes secondary to other considerations, so I’m not sure if that’s for me.

“Other than that, I have enjoyed doing some media work, so that may be a possibility.”

In paying tribute to his  ex-colleague’s career yesterday, Chris Paterson, now an SRU ambassador, noted that other than when injured, it is a measure of Blair’s class that he was a member of every Scotland matchday squad for a decade between 2002 and 2012.

“He was one of the most gifted and naturally skilful players I played alongside,” said the country’s  most- capped player. “His ability to read a game and make the correct decision was brilliant. He was razor-sharp in attack and his defence, especially when chasing back and cover tackling, showed how tough a player he was.

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