He may now be part of Glasgow Warriors’ backroom team but Mike Blair still looks to be in the same sort of shape as in his days captaining Scotland, not least in his own mind’s eye.

It can be hard to let go and, still only 36, he admits to still fantasising about pulling on his boots in anger, to the extent of running the possibility by Gregor Townsend, the Scotland coach who was once his half-back partner.

“In the summer I did say to Gregor it was a dream I had that we had some kind of food poisoning late on in the build-up to the Fiji game and the option was either bringing me back to sit on the bench or to have Lee Jones covering the bench at nine and I kind of said to Gregor ‘Would I have a shout?’ He didn’t answer so I take that… I’d make the last three minutes,” he claimed.

Maybe so, but his value in his current job is the knowhow he can offer those whose job is to do what he no longer can and as they seek to make a telling impact in European competition for the first time, the man who made his name at the other end of the M8 brings valuable insight.

Also a former captain of Edinburgh he was one of their senior men when, in defiance of domestic form in a season which saw them finish bottom of the Pro12, they saved their best for Europe.

Blair was heavily involved in some of the most memorable moments, coming off the bench in the extraordinary match against Racing Metro when they came back from 25 points down to win 48-47 at Murrayfield in their first home match and playing a key role in the move that saw Lee Jones, also now with Glasgow, squeeze over the bonus point securing try that nudged them above Cardiff Blues in the pool and earned the home quarter-final against Toulouse which saw them make history as the only Scottish team to win a knockout match in Europe’s top competition.

“It was a really bizarre campaign when we’d gone into it without a huge amount of confidence and it just clicked,” he recalled.

If nothing else it was one which served as a reminder to his present charges that Europe represents a new start, albeit every coach would rather be carrying the sort of momentum Glasgow have generated in winning all six competitive matches this season.

“It’s probably the opposite this time around when we’ve had a really good run into this game against Exeter, results wise,” he said. “There have been some really pleasing things in our performances but the great thing is that there are things we can work on. Against Munster we played really well, against the Cheetahs some of the resolve and attitude was excellent, but there are still things we’re improving on.”

They will probably have to because both the pedigree and form of what confronts them in the Champions Cup could hardly be more formidable: English champions Exeter Chiefs, currently second in their Premiership; three time European champions Leinster, who have won five of six Pro14 matches; and ex-Scotland coach Vern Cotter’s Montpellier, who won the European Challenge Cup last year and are currently in third place as the most most free-scoring team in the French Top 14.

Arguably the toughest of their tasks is first up as they head to Sandy Park, but as Blair acknowledged, the switch from the six pool set up in which Edinburgh were competing in 2011/12 and the five pool set up has intensified competition.

“I think it will be a step up,” Blair acknowledged when invited to draw comparison with last weekend when Glasgow defied a difficult trip and altitude to beat Pro14 newcomers the Free State Cheetahs. “Exeter are a fantastic side. They’re 11 in a row at home. I’ve been there playing with Newcastle. It’s a great atmosphere and a belief there that they win their home games, so it will be a really big challenge, but we’ve shown enough this season to know we can put our best foot forward and really challenge these guys.

“The mini leagues, the groups, they are so tight and there are no easy groups now. We used to talk about the ‘group of death’ and stuff, but they’re all groups of death now. There are at least three teams in every pool that if they won the thing you wouldn’t turn your nose up. So it’s really competitive and we talk about it in the Six Nations as well, the momentum and the first game and getting a place higher up the group to kick things off and that’s certainly our focus against Exeter. I’m not putting down how difficult a group we have, but all of them are very difficult and it’s going to take a big effort from us to start the campaign well. Exeter away is probably one of the hardest starts with the season they had last season, but we’ve seen with this group how capable they are of taking on challenges and they’ve done really well so far.

“It’s about consistency of performance. Traditionally you’d say win your home games and get a win away from home and some bonus points, but I don’t think you can make it as simple as that because there are French teams now travelling a little bit better than they have done, probably with more overseas players coming in, so it’s consistency of performance and hopefully we’ll get that.”

HeraldScotland | Sport

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