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Mike Blair retires from international rugby

Mike Blair has announced his international retirements, stepping away from the fray ahead of this years Six Nations at the age of 31.

Blair was Scotland’s most capped scrum half with 85 appearances; the Brive number nine captained the national side 14 times.

His international career began in 2002 against Canada, spanning 10 seasons. He scored seven tries for his country and was nominated for the IRB Players of the Year award in 2008 before touring South Africa with the British and Irish Lions a year later.

His career in a Scotland shirt will perhaps be remembered best for the long running, and high quality, duel for the number 9 shirt that he had with Chris Cusiter, a Lion in 2005.

That he generally has edged that particular battle speaks volumes for the talent of Blair, whose ability to under the high ball when sweeping behind his defence will be particularly missed.

Blair moved to Brive this summer having spent the rest of his career with Edinburgh, and cited the move as a partial reason for his international retirement:

“There’s no doubt that moving our family to France has played a part in my decision. Our son Rory is now at school here and we have an 11-week-old daughter, Lucy, who was born in Brive.”

“However, it’s a combination of reasons that’s led to my standing down from international rugby, not just one factor.

Even in retirement Blair showed his familiar sense of duty to the team rather than himself that impressed so many Scotland coaches:

“I’m in the very fortunate position of being able to decide myself when my international career ends, for me, that time is now. A place in the squad at the World Cup in 2015 is not a realistic personal target and, with that in mind, it’s right for Scottish rugby and the Scotland team, that other players gain experience in a pivotal position.”

The former Edinburgh man was a part of some of Scotland’s most famous victories in recent times and reflected on one of those, his captaincy debut:

“I have enjoyed immensely representing my country for more than 10 years and will miss that exhilarating feeling of running out to a capacity crowd with the whole country behind you. The noise when leading the team out for the first time as captain at Murrayfield against England in 2008, when we won 15-9, still makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up when I think about it.”

He finished his statement by saying: “I want to thank everyone – my family, the Scotland management teams past and present, my team mates and our supporters – for their enormous contribution to my international career. I have been very fortunate to have these people around me.”

His retirement leaves interim Head Coach, Scott Johnson, shorn of one of his leadership group but perhaps not as weakened as he might have been had it been a player in a different position retiring.

Scrum half is one of the real strengths of Scottish rugby; indeed it is the only position wear the second choice player is a Lion, Chris Cusiter. With Rory Lawson and Henry Pyrgos in reserve, even without Blair it is still a position of real strength for Scotland.

They can even call on the talents of the man who has been charged with igniting the backline from fly half in recent times, Greig Laidlaw, a man who is by trade a scrum half himself.

Scotland’s first game of the Six Nations is against England on the 2nd February.

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