If the Edinburgh Rugby squad are expecting a lighter touch when it comes to man-management under Mike Blair after four years of the confrontational approach favoured by Richard Cockerill, then the new head coach wasted no time in demonstrating that he will be no walkover by ordering Scotland flanker Jamie Ritchie to report back to training next Friday, just six days after his wedding this Saturday.

With Blair having less than five weeks to work with the squad between his first day in the new job last Monday and their first pre-season match at home to Newcastle Falcons on 11th September, he is understandably keen to have as much access to his senior players as possible, and Ritchie – a consummate professional – is okay with that.

Ordinarily he wouldn’t have dreamed of arranging the big day so close to the start of the season, but these are unusual times and after a five-year engagement he and fiancé Millie decided they couldn’t wait any longer.

“I think we got engaged around Christmas 2016, so the wedding has been on the cards for a while, but obviously Covid postponed it for a bit,” he explains. “Then we had this date in mind, and I told the coaches and they were happy with it. I'm excited and I've planned it quite well because I turned 25 on Monday so I’ll remember my 25th wedding anniversary as it will coincide with my 50th birthday.

“To be fair, Cockers gave me the whole week off, and when I told Mike that he was like: ‘Can you come in on the Friday?’ I don't know what that tells you!”

There will be a couple of tables worth of rugby pals at the big day down in Ayrshire, and while there is no room for Blair, Ritchie is quick to stress that there are no hard feelings about his honeymoon being cut short.

“All of the playing group here at Edinburgh are really excited about Mike coming in,” he stressed. “There has been a few changes and guys are really enjoying their pre-season. On the whole, the start has been great for everyone.

"It's hard to say at this stage how Mike’s approach will differ from Cockers’ because pre-season is always a bit different from how we do things in-season, but we have made a real effort as a group to do more stuff together in terms of coaches and players. A few more things have been organised in terms of fun stuff. Before we came back in the guys were off paint-balling. 

“There are a couple of other things organised, just to get guys are enjoying themselves again and looking forward to the new season, the new stadium, the new coach and crowds coming back. All in all, the boys are in a really good place.” 

Tomorrow’s wedding will be a big boost at the end of a frustrating summer for Ritchie, who was supposed to captain Scotland through their three-match schedule, before Covid scuppered that plan. As it happens, Blair was to be interim coach of the national team for those games against England A, Georgia and Romania, and it is widely anticipated that he will turn to Ritchie again when he names his skipper for the coming season at Edinburgh – although the player himself is not jumping to any conclusions.

“It's not an assumption of mine,” he insisted. “It's up to Mike. I would obviously be delighted to do it but I'd also be delighted to support anyone else who is made captain. A lot of guys have captained the team previously and done well. I will not be knocking on Mike's door saying I want to do it. If it happens it happens. I'm just excited about this new season and new era for the club.

“We all needed a break after our 52-week [2020-21] season, but the boys have come back firing, which is great, and now we’re raring to go.”

But first things first, there is the final preparations for a wedding to complete.

 

All four of Scotland’s matches in the 2021 Autumn Nations Series – against Tonga, Australia, South Africa and Japan – will be broadcast live in the UK on Amazon Prime Video, following an agreement between the digital subscription platform and Six Nations Rugby.
 
Amazon will also show all England, Wales, France and Italy matches in what has been rebranded the Autumn Nations Series, with Ireland’s matches to be shown on Channel 4 in the UK and on RTE in he Republic of Ireland before switching across to Amazon in the UK in 2022.
 
"We are delighted to be working with Prime Video again for the broadcast of the Autumn Nations Series, said Six Nations CEO Ben Morel. “They were a fantastic partner last year and we share the same ambition to establish an exciting series that fans will engage with and enjoy.
 
"We have worked closely with all our Unions to agree a schedule of fixtures, that minimizes overlaps making it possible for supporters in UK and Ireland to watch every single match from the home teams in a series that will showcase the best teams in the Northern Hemisphere against the best teams in the Southern Hemisphere, with Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa all featuring. 
"The series will also be the opportunity for the public to enjoy some of rugby's emerging nations, Japan, Tonga, Georgia and Fiji and witness some of rugby's great growing talents.”