Flying the Scottish flag

Mike Blair is not concerned about being the only Scottish player in the Lions’ 22 to take on the Royal XV on Saturday.

The Scottish contingent of the 37-man tour group has risen to four due to injuries (the original number stood at just two), with the national captain one of those to benefit. Although a late replacement, Blair now has the opportunity to set down a marker for the Test series.

Blair admits it was a fraught two weeks waiting for the call-up.

‘I didn’t really know what was going on in my head,’ said Blair. ‘At times I thought I must be next in line, then I thought about booking a holiday for our summer. But after a while those couple of weeks just let me play for Edinburgh, and we had a good end to the season.

‘I may be the only Scot in Saturday’s squad, but the Lions is not about one nation. There is much responsibility that comes with it. I’ll put in my best effort for myself as well as for everyone around the world watching the first Lions game of the tour. So it’s not just Scotland, it’s for the fans.

‘That’s the great thing about the tour, the four countries coming together, that’s what it’s all about.’

Wales have the largest representation for the match in Rustenburg with 10, followed by England (six), and Grand Slam winners Ireland (five).

The vital 8-9-10 axis consists of a Welshmen (Andy Powell), Blair and Paddie Ronan O’Gara, and the trio will have to mesh quickly. Ian McGeechan emphasised how he wanted to gauge how certain combinations go throughout the first three matches, but the enormity of the task is emphasised by Blair never having played with the other 21 players.

‘The last 10 days have been very necessary in order for us to get patterns and systems in place, so we can gel on the pitch from the first whistle. I haven’t played with any of the other guys in Saturday’s squad before, but it should be special. The half-back pairing is key for any team, and Ronan and I have been trying our best to ensure we are a success.’

By Grant Ball, in Johannesburg