THE selection of co-captains has become a fashionable option in recent years, but Mike Blair, for one, believes the practice can be valuable as well as voguish. Edinburgh announced earlier today that their skippers for the season will be Grant Gilchrist and Jamie Ritchie, who succeeds Stuart McInally in the role, and Blair is convinced that the two forwards are the perfect combination.
At 32, Gilchrist has been a senior leader for some time, not only with Scotland, which he captained on the summer tour to South America, but also with Edinburgh, where he has been captain for several seasons. And, although six years his fellow-forward’s junior, Ritchie has also been a key leadership figure in Blair’s squad for some time, and has considerable experience of captaining teams dating back to his time in Scotland age-group sides.
Asked why he had stuck with the formula of appointing two captains for the season, Blair offered a simple explanation: he believes it works. “It’s something we’ve done previously and it’s proved to be a success,” he said of the dual appointment. “That’s the history behind it; the more philosophical reason behind it is we believe it’s a big job, and sharing the responsibility of it will allow each of them to focus on the team but on their own games as well.
“I felt that those two guys epitomised what we wanted Edinburgh Rugby players to be. They’re the most consistent, committed players that we’ve got. You can’t help but play for them because of what they do on the pitch and the places they put their heads where other people might not.
“It’s something that Jamie wants to do as well. He wants to get better at it, he wants to challenge himself, he sees it as an important role in the team and one that he can do as well.
“I want to mention Stuart McInally as well, because although he won’t have an official title, I see him as being part of that group of three. Although he’s not been named as a co-captain – I felt we couldn’t have a co-co-captain – he’ll be very much part of that leadership team as well.”
Blair was very much part of a leadership team for the bulk of his career, but thinks he only ever really excelled at one of the two principal aspects of captaining a team. “I believe that my leadership was probably more around detail and understanding,” he explained. “I wouldn’t say my leadership was inspirational – I wouldn’t say I was someone who was really able to rally the troops and get an emotional response out of them. An Al Kellock would be more that kind of leader,” he said, referring to the former Glasgow and Scotland captain who is now the Warriors’ chief executive.
“I’m not saying that one’s right or one’s wrong. But something that Gilco is able to do is have the technical, tactical side and be able to lead from that side of things in terms of the detail and understanding of what we’re doing, but he’s also able to pull the emotional side out – the understanding of how to get the best from individuals.
“So one part of the leadership I was probably quite strong at, but the other bit I don’t think I was an inspirational captain.”
When both captains are on the pitch, Ritchie is likely to have the primary responsibility for speaking to the referee. “I’d like to give Jamie experience,” Blair added. “He captained a game for us last season and Gilko has obviously done that a lot as well.”
Gilchrist added: “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. With Stuart, we usually just nominated before the game, just for simplicity’s sake and so we could build that relationship with the ref.”
Ritchie has also captained his country at age-group level, but regards the role he has just been given as a special honour. “When Mike told me he’d made that decision I was holding back tears,” he said. “I was really excited. I joined this club when I was 17 years old and it’s been a huge part of my life, so I’m absolutely buzzing.”
Away from the pitch, Gilchrist has carried out other diplomatic duties for some time as Edinburgh’s representative on Rugby Players Scotland (RPS), the association for Scotland’s professionals. RPS chief executive Bill Mitchell‘s credibility was called into question last month when members of the national women’s squad said an interview he gave to The Offside Line had not been done with their approval. However, a statement was later released by the squad agreeing with the key statements he made in his interview, and, while not commenting directly on what has been described as a communication breakdown between Mitchell and that squad, Gilchrist insisted he had every confidence in the official.
“I’ve been the Edinburgh rep since we set it (RPS) up,” he said. “I love being involved in it. It serves a really good purpose and there has been a lot of good change.
“Bill has done a lot of good work for us. From an Edinburgh point of view any issues or contractual stuff has been handled very well. I have full faith in Bill from what he has done and his professionalism. I don’t see any issue there.”