Scotland assistant coach Mike Blair noticed a definite spring in the step of the Edinburgh Rugby and Glasgow Warriors players on Monday - and he believes the good European runs of both clubs can only help Scotland going into the Six Nations.
Blair, now 37, played a big part in the Edinburgh squad that made it to the semi-finals of the Heineken Cup - as it was then - back in 2011/12.
Fast forward seven years and the former scrum-half is now part of the Warriors’ and the national side’s coaching set-ups.
And he feels that the home-based players in the 43 man squad that are currently training this week on the outskirts of Edinburgh can take a lot of confidence from their runs to this season’s Heineken Champions Cup quarter-finals.
Finn Russell’s Racing 92 are also into the last eight and Blair told TRU: “It is brilliant to see the Scottish teams doing so well in Europe and the knock-on effect it has for the guys coming into this international camp with us.
From one touchline to the other in lightning speed from @GlasgowWarriors ??@tommy_seymour14 dived over on Saturday in a thrilling first 40, but did it top the lot from the weekend? ??— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) January 21, 2019
Vote for Heineken #ChampionsCup Try of the Round now ?? https://t.co/nTzZ5V1660 pic.twitter.com/Yar7UaEz1Q
“They have got smiles on their faces, there is a bounce in their step. For Scottish rugby as a whole it is a huge thing. It is historic, but the Glasgow and Edinburgh players don't see it as being the end of the run. They want to push for bigger things and get to semi-finals and finals.
“Edinburgh and Glasgow have got varying styles so with Scotland, we are in a great position. We can pull a bit from each team and try to find the perfect blend to suit us.
“With Edinburgh, we beat Toulouse in 2012 in the last eight in front of 38,000 fans at Murrayfield.
“There’s no doubt that the size of the crowd made a big difference to our effort on the pitch, so I hope that the Edinburgh pubic really get out and support the team because they’re playing some entertaining rugby.
“Glasgow have been going well too and we want the guys to bottle up the feeling they had of getting out of the pool stages and bring it into the Six Nations.”
In the past it has been largely felt that Glasgow and Scotland play a more expansive and swashbuckling game than Edinburgh with the latter’s strengths lying in their pack.
However, Blair believes the Edinburgh style has changed - and that with the national team, it is all about playing a style that suits the individuals available to you.
“I think what Edinburgh have done well is picked a style that suits their players,” he stated
“Maybe previously coaches there have had a certain style in mind that didn’t necessarily suit the players they’ve got.
“One of Edinburgh’s obvious strength is the front five along with the set-piece work and the kick chase.
“Their kick chase is something that is up there with the very best in Europe. They’ve built their game on that - and they’re adding a lot of different layers to their game now.
??? This is the Story of the Day from our @ChampionsCup win over @MHR_officiel which saw Edinburgh qualify for the Quarter-Finals in front of a record pool-stage crowd at BT Murrayfield. ?? #AlwaysEdinburgh ???? pic.twitter.com/CsrmZGjppn— Edinburgh Rugby (@EdinburghRugby) January 21, 2019
‘Their defence has been excellent with [former Scotland Sevens head coach] Calum MacRae in there and you could also see that attacking flair in the Montpellier game a couple of weeks ago.
“We won’t particularly change the style at Scotland because of the way Edinburgh have been going, you pick players for certain styles, you pick styles for certain players.
“We will have a balance to our game, looking to take the best out of Glasgow, the best out of Edinburgh, the best out of the individuals we have from elsewhere and come up with a plan for that.”
Meanwhile, Blair is delighted to have John Hardie back in the squad.
The 30-year-old openside has not played for his country since the 2017 summer tour after off the field issues while with Edinburgh in 2017/18.
However, he is settled now at Newcastle Falcons and could have a big role to play in the opening two matches with Italy and Ireland given that usual number seven Hamish Watson is set to be out with a broken bone in his hand.
“It’s great to have John back. He was back in the squad this time last year and guys love the energy he gives off in defence,” Blair explained of the New Zealand-born back-row.
“He loves flying off the line, tackling people and that brings a great energy to the squad as well. People enjoy his ability to play the guitar and the fact he’s always got a smile on his face as well, so he’s a good addition to the squad.
“He was unfortunate with what happened at Clermont [in the summer of 2018]. From my understanding they were keen to keep him on, but because of regulations around homegrown player numbers they kept a young French player instead.
“With Newcastle he had his opportunity and Dean Richards liked what he saw which is very understandable and it’s great that he’s nailed down a future there.
“I am looking forward to working with him again and we all know what he offers.”