Blair is restored but it's Laidlaw moving to No 10

 

Remember the clamour for Blair to be installed at No 10?

The man who lines up at scrum-half for Scotland against France at Murrayfield tomorrow certainly does. "I think if someone had said to me a year ago that the half-backs for this game would be me and Greig, you'd probably be guessing that Greig would be playing nine," Mike Blair pondered. Not so long ago, such was Scotland's dearth of talent at outside-half, and surfeit of options at scrum-half, there was a campaign for the conversion of Blair from a nine to a 10.

Instead, it is Greig Laidlaw who has made the change. The Edinburgh captain won his first cap for Scotland as a scrum-half, replacing Blair off the bench in the 49-3 defeat against the All Blacks at Murrayfield in November 2010. He also played his second game as a replacement scrum-half, in the World Cup warm-up contest against Ireland last August.

In the 2012 Six Nations opener against England, however, the nephew of the former Scotland and Lions scrum-half Roy Laidlaw came off the bench to replace Dan Parks at outside-half. He made his first international start in the fly-half position against Wales in Cardiff a fortnight ago and plays there again tomorrow – alongside Blair, whose speed of service on replacement duty has earned him the nod for the No 9 jersey, ahead of his long-time rival Chris Cusiter.

Remarkably, it is the ninth different starting half-back combination that Scotland head coach Andy Robinson has chosen in nine matches. Whether it can help the Scots kick a losing habit stretching back four matches remains to be seen but Blair's presence from the off will certainly enhance Robinson's plan of testing the World Cup finalists with a fast, multi-phase game.

Scotland have only beaten France once in 13 years. That was a 20-16 victory at Murrayfield in 2006, in which Blair showed all the rapier-sharp qualities that were to put him in the running for the IRB Player of the Year award in 2008 (he lost out to Shane Williams but remains the only Scot ever to have appeared on the shortlist for the global honour) and made him a British and Irish Lion in 2009.

"No, I didn't win the man of the match award that day," the 29-year-old said, casting his mind back to that rare Caledonian success against the French. "I think it ended up being Scott Murray. It should have been me, definitely. I went off after 55 minutes or so with a broken nose or something."

Since making a try-scoring debut against Canada in the summer of 2002, Blair has taken more than a few knocks. After being lined up as Bryan Redpath's successor under Ian McGeechan for 18 months, he was told he would be playing second fiddle to Cusiter when Matt Williams arrived as head coach after the 2003 World Cup.

For much of Robinson's tenure, he has even slipped into Harry Lime territory – as the Third Man in line for theNo 9 shirt, behind Cusiter and Rory Lawson. Indeed, of the 18 appearances Blair has made under Robinson, only four have been as a starter. And, in promoting the Edinburgh man from bench duty for what will be his 77th cap tomorrow, Robinson felt obliged to point out that Cusiter remained his "long-term No 1" scrum-half.

"I think there is that slightly different balance between Chris and myself," Blair said. "We both bring different things to the party and I'm pleased to get the opportunity this time."

What Blair and Laidlaw bring to the half-back party is a slick partnership forged in the Edinburgh team since the latter moved out to fly-half towards the end of last season. "We really enjoy playing together," Blair said. "We thrive off quick ball and I think the understanding we have together, and the way we can interchange, helps to speed up the game a little bit as well."

For Laidlaw, having been fast-tracked from scrum-half to stand-off, and become a link man with international experience in both half-back roles, he has found himself following in the footsteps of Freddie Michalak, Jean-Baptiste Elissalde and Morgan Parra, who have all played in both slots for France in recent years.

"I feel as though I'm getting in the groove now at 10," said Laidlaw. "It is a very French thing, but hopefully now I can turn it into a Scottish thing."

Teams: Scotland: Hogg; Lamont, Lamont, Morrison, Jones; Laidlaw, Blair; Jacobsen, Ford (capt), Cross, Gray, Hamilton, Barclay, Rennie, Denton. Replacements: Lawson, Kalman, Kellock, Vernon, Cusiter, Weir, De Luca.

France: Medard; Clerc, Rougerie, Fofana, Malzieu; Trinh-Duc, Parra; Poux, Szarzewski, Mas, Pape, Maestri, Dusautoir (capt), Harinordoquy, Picamoles. Replacements: Servat, Debaty, Nallet, Bonnaire, Dupuy, Beauxis, Mermoz.

Referee: W Barnes (Eng). Kick-off: 3pm tomorrow. TV: BBC2

Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
News
people'When I see people who look totally different, it brings me back to that time in my life'
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
news
News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

Arts and Entertainment
A photograph taken by David Redferm of Sonny Rollins
people
News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

Extras
indybest
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker