BASED on results from the first two rounds of the United Rugby Championship, Edinburgh’s home match against the Stormers this Saturday evening should be a golden opportunity for Mike Blair’s side to bounce back from last weekend’s last-minute loss away to Benetton. 

The South African side are zero from two in the competition so far and missing their Springbok stars. However, head coach Mike Blair believes that all four of the South African sides which have joined the league this year are getting stronger as they become accustomed to playing in European conditions, so has warned his team that they can’t afford to start slowly. 

“They’re used to the type of game over here now with two games under their belts,” Blair reasoned. “Stormers had an excellent first 37 minutes or so against Munster and not many teams go there and are 15 points up near half-time.  

“Munster got back into it through their driving game, but Stormers when they hit their straps are a difficult team to stop.” 

Blair added that while Edinburgh won’t underestimate the challenge they face this coming weekend, the team will approach the match with confidence having quickly compartmentalised their loss to Benetton. 

“We had a team meeting and were frustrated,” he explained. “We talked about shooting ourselves in the foot. But there was a load of positive stuff too, so it was a positive meeting about the good things that we’ve been doing. 

“But we did also reflect on the fact that we can’t give the opposition easy ins to the game through our basic errors, whether that’s discipline or skill-based stuff. 

“After 77 minutes we kicked the ball out on the full, and on 79 minutes 30 second we’ve got a line-out on their 22 to win the game, so you look back and of course you’re frustrated with how it turned out. But, as I said to the guys, it’s not as if these are difficult things to fix. We can turn these things around pretty quickly. 

“They were six wins from seven, playing at home, so if we had won that game that would have gone down as a really good away victory,” he added. “We can’t then turn around and say it was a shocking loss.” 

One of the big success stories for Edinburgh so far this season has been the form of Ben Vellacott, the 26-year-old scrum-half who joined the club from Wasps during the summer and has added an energy to the capital outfit’s play which was conspicuously absent last season under Richard Cockerill. 

Vellacott’s recruitment may have happened before Blair took up the capital reins, but the coach has been a long-time admirer. 

“He’s done well, hasn’t he?” said Blair. “He’s someone we watched nationally for a few seasons. He had a bad knee injury [in September 2019] and didn’t get a huge amount of rugby after that. I was in touch with him a couple of years ago and gave him a bit of feedback on a few different things.  

“He’s an exceptional player. Give him front foot ball and he’s going to tear the opposition apart. And the pleasing thing with Ben is he’s not been a one-trick pony. He’s been able to play at tempo. but he’s shown a really good organisation as well.” 

As the nation’s most capped scrum-half and a former member of Gregor Townsend’s Scotland coaching team, Blair is ideally placed to assess whether the new man has got what it takes to push his way into the international frame this autumn. 

“I think Scotland have strong scrum-halves, and George [Horne] and Ali [Price] probably have a fair bit in the bank, but the way that Ben is going, if he can continue to show this consistency, he’ll start pushing those two along with Jamie Dobie and Scott Steele,” Blair said.  

Vellacott’s fine form has not been good news for the two other scrum-halves in the Edinburgh squad, with 32-year-old Henry Pyrgos managing eight minutes off the bench in round one against the Scarlets and 23-year-old Charlie Shiel being an unused sub against Benetton. 

This lack of game time is a particular concern with respect to Shiel, who has been on the books since the summer of 2018 and has 38 appearances to his name, but only 11 starts. He is a player who has been on the verge of a breakthrough for three years, without ever getting a real run in the team. 

“It is difficult,” said Blair. “I am trying to give guys opportunities, but we don’t have Super6 we can fall back on because Covid means we need a week between playing Super6 and then coming back with us. 

“I am as frustrated as these guys are because I am giving them feedback and telling them what they need to show, and the guys are saying: ‘I know, but I’m not playing!’ 

“I know that answer is coming so I need to be able to facilitate ways for the guys to show me what they can do in training.”