Press Pass with Mike Blair
Get the latest from Head Coach Mike Blair as he spoke with press in the build up to Saturday's URC Round 15 clash against Emirates Lions in Johannesburg (2 April, kick-off 3.05pm BST/ 4.05pm local).
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On welcoming Scotland internationals back into camp
It is a difficult time at the end of the six nations, coming away to South Africa and know who is going to be available. This is pretty much what we planned to do and I'm glad we were able to get them out. They came out on Saturday and just made the game which was great.
They have had a little more time to acclimatise than we did. It is great for the group to have them back involved - new voices, new energy, new leaders, to mix things up a bit.
On mood in the camp after Sharks win
“We will take some confidence from the win because Sharks have done really well. But there is also a realism that it was a different kind of game with those weather conditions. We were really clinical with our opportunities and they weren't. Part of that was a few errors on their part, and part of it was our gutsy defence.
“It was really pleasing, but we also acknowledge that we are not here for a one-off win. We are delighted we got that start, but we are also aware of how dangerous this Lions team where against the ospreys. I don't even think they were at their best. There are so clinical and dangerous when they get broken field opportunities.
“It definitely gives us belief, that if we perform to the best of our ability then we can win games like this. But we have to back it up, we beat Connacht by 50 points and then followed that with a non-performance against Glasgow, so I’ve spoken to Glasgow about this not being a one-off game.
“It is one step in our journey through the season and body is going to look back and say ‘it’s alright because they beat Sharks’ if we don’t progress any further in the competition. So, there is a big focus on backing up that performance and we will make a couple of changes to reflect that – freshen things up and also recognise that some guys put in a huge performance last weekend.
“There is a good mood in the camp. The sun makes a bit of a difference on a day off – having put all the work in and got a result – it makes things a bit easier. But we’re back into it now, we’ve forgotten all about Sharks. We’re moving on and we want to unbeaten in south Africa, but that isn’t easy.”
On the challenge of Emirates Lions and playing at altitude
“It will be different. The weather conditions we expect to be good. It is 22 or 23° at the moment. We will be at altitude, but I don't want to use that as an excuse or something to be concerned about.
“The rugby we want to play with the sun out, 23° is manageable although it will get a bit sweaty. We trained today in Durban in 27 or 28 and the guys were handling that okay. It's good that we've been able to get that bit of experience.
“It’s a really fine balance. The initial research that we looked at suggested we either do 24 hours in Johannesburg and play the game or spend 10 days acclimatising. And we decided to base ourselves in Durban and just travel for the game and go home. We’ll see how things work out. We trained in the heat today and the guys will get a physiological boost from but it will also take a bit out of them, hydration-wise and fatigue-wise as well.
“We’d usually do a double day today, units in the morning and then rugby in the afternoon. But we condensed it into a shorter unit session with our team session and weights. It’s been intense but it’s been a little bit shorter. And it will be short again on Thursday, not too much on Friday and then hopefully plenty in the legs and the lungs for Saturday.
“We’re wary of the Lions’ transition attacks, the loose balls and giving too much space to the outside backs. And the set-piece is another area where we believe they will try to challenge us. I thought we handled the Sharks scrum okay in the end. We dug in.
“In terms of us we’re going to have to have real balance. We’ve had some games this year where we’ve had to look at our kicking game, our kick-chase game and our strong defence, and other games where we’ve been able to shift the target, play at tempo and move the opposition around. We need a balance to our game against the Lions based on what we see from their defence and the conditions we’re likely to be playing in as well.”
On achieving consistency and seeing young players develop
“We’ve got the talent here, we’ve got a number of internationals and a number of outstanding youngsters coming through, and consistency is the challenge. Part of that is on the coaches, but also the players to have that self-motivation to back-up the performances, to show that real desire to do something special in the Edinburgh jersey.
“We’ve been keeping the guys’ feet on the ground, but they need to be aware that if we do play at the best of our ability we’ll give ourselves opportunities to do something special, and if we don’t because of the strength of this competition then we’ll fall short.
“So consistency is a huge thing – consistency of mind-set and consistency in execution of the fundamentals of our game.
“You see guys like Ben Muncaster and Conor Boyle, and how they have progressed since the Ospreys game, getting opportunities to play week-in and week-out. And we need to get exposure to these players coming through – it’s not always going to be able to happen with us so there needs to be that progression through Super6 and potentially A games to expose guys to that higher level of rugby. So, it doesn’t take three, four or five games to get to that level, it means they are ready to go.
“But there is a progression there and I’m really pleased with how guys have stepped up and started to understand. It doesn’t just happen overnight, but I’m not giving them an excuse to say they need three, four or five games. The expectation is that they are good enough to win games whilst on the journey.”
On the squad’s activity on days off
“There was some golf. There was a trip to see some Sharks which was leaving at five o’clock in the morning and an hour drive in a mini-bus, they got there and waited for an hour, but the weather wasn’t good enough and they drove back. So, Pierre Schoeman has got a lot to answer for over that one…
“The place we’re staying in Zimbali, it’s an amazing resort, there’s a beach club, there’s five swimming pools, there are coffee shops all over the place, so there is not actually a huge need to leave the resort, which is good because it means we save the legs a little bit and stay fresh.