BY IAIN COLLIN – @CCP_sport
Mike Blair insists there is no reason to panic in the wake of another opening-day loss for Scotland in the Six Nations.
Saturday’s 15-9 loss to rivals England in the Calcutta Cup means the Scots have only won one of their opening fixtures in the tournament since it began in 2000 and are still awaiting a first try against the Auld Enemy at BT Murrayfield since 2004.
The dispiriting defeat appears to have washed away much of the positivity that was built up during last year’s World Cup and the progress made to the quarter-finals before the gut-wrenching exit to Australia.
However, Blair – the nation’s most-capped scrum-half with 85 appearances for Scotland – is adamant Vern Cotter’s outfit can come good as they seek to bounce back against Wales in Cardiff on Saturday.
The Glasgow Warriors back said: “It was the first round of the Six Nations and, reflecting back on the match, that fact was apparent throughout.
“Both Scotland and England struggled to find continuity in a game that was punctuated with errors.
“And, whilst always down on the scoreboard, Scotland were in with a chance of winning the game going into the last 10 minutes, which can not always be said of the fixture.
“(There are) some things to work on but there’s no need to panic. You need to be at your best to win games for Scotland in the Six Nations and Scotland were just off it.
“They were perhaps over-hyped post World Cup and now are being overly criticised for this performance.
“The reality is still that this a young side continuing to develop and need time to do so.
“They can win in Wales next week but they will need to be at their very best to do so.”
Blair lamented the ‘sloppy handling errors’ made by Scotland when in good offensive positions and has identified improvements needing made in contesting high kicks.
And the 34-year-old is hopeful the the Scots can also speed up their attacks after struggling to break down the England defence.
“Scotland’s attacking game will be much improved next week as familiarity grows,” he told the BBC. “The reading of Finn Russell is key as he takes the ball to the line, holds the defence and looks for runners to pierce gaps.
“I felt his support players stood off a bit, allowing the English defence time to react and make their tackles.
“I think there were also times when Scotland were looking for the perfect attacking shape before playing the ball. When the ball is slow anyway I can understand slowing the ball down more to set attacking structure.
“But otherwise I believe in just playing and keeping the tempo up, even if the scrum-half is not at the breakdown. If the attack are not set you can bet that the defence are even less so.”