MIKE Blair has insisted that the Scotland squad have benefited from working together over the past few weeks despite the cancellation because of Covid of all three of their planned fixtures. 

Scottish Rugby announced yesterday that the Georgia Test in Tbilisi, due to be played a week today, had been called off as a result of positive test results within the home team’s camp. The Georgians were meant to play South Africa tonight, but that match was cancelled earlier in the week because of those positive tests.

For their part, Scotland were due to be playing Romania in Bucharest today, only for that fixture to be cancelled last week after positive tests within the Scots camp. The ‘A’ international against England, scheduled to be played at Welford Road at the end of last month, had earlier suffered the same fate.

However, Blair, the national team’s interim head coach while Gregor Townsend is on duty with the British & Irish Lions, said that he personally had learned a lot from the experience, and praised the players for how they had responded to a very difficult situation. “Everyone is really disappointed, but we still found we were able to get some stuff out of it,” he said. 

“It wasn’t a complete waste of time. It’s the funny old world that we live in at the moment, so we just try and take the best that we can out of it.

“We definitely saw character. We saw how players dealt with adversity, and we had some time on the training pitch in which we were able to assess some of them and have a good look at them. So we still managed to get a huge amount out of it.”

Despite the lack of game time, Blair has had a lot to handle in his first stint as head coach, and he is confident that the amount of problems he has had to deal with will stand him in good stead. “About a week before I came in, I was really nervous and apprehensive. You don’t know how you’re going to react until you’re thrown into the situation. 

“The first week I felt so comfortable. We had some issues, with Dave Cherry and Matt Fagerson pulling out with injury, but it was going along quite nicely.

“Suddenly you get punched in the ribs, then you get one in the back, then one in the throat. It was a real challenge. Now it’s gone, I look back with a bit of a smile and think, ‘Jeez, that can’t be the way it normally is’.

“I’ll take a couple of weeks to think about it. But I’ve definitely enjoyed it and I’ve definitely learned a huge amount from it.”

Blair explained that Scottish Rugby had looked at other possible opponents to play a week on Saturday, but had found it impossible to sort something out at such short notice. “We did look briefly into other options, but it becomes very difficult, because guys have structured what their seasons and holidays are going to be. 

“We made every effort to find opposition to play, because we felt it was good to give our group an opportunity to show what they can do. They’d done all the hard yards, the isolation, and we were just starting to come out the back of it, so we were desperate to get a game. 

“Unfortunately the couple of countries we looked at, it wasn’t feasible in the end.”

The cancellation of all three games means a number of uncapped players such as Sale hooker Ewan Ashman and Bath back-row Josh Bayliss have yet to be ‘captured’ by Scotland. But Blair believes there is no risk that they will think again and throw their lot in with any other countries that they may be qualified to represent.

“Those guys who are dual qualified or have had contact from other countries, we’ve found them so committed to Scotland through the training, through the camps. We don’t believe that will be an issue at all. 

“We’ve loved having them in and the feedback we’ve had over the weeks is that they’ve loved being in. We’re confident about that situation.”