WHILE his Scotland Under-20s team-mates were enjoying a weekend off, Jack Blain was not only back in action last Saturday but playing in the biggest game yet of his fledgling career. The 19-year-old winger was a late call-up to Richard Cockerill’s Edinburgh team which travelled to Italy to take on Benetton in a crucial Guinness PRO14. The capital side came up short in that match, but the debutant put in a solid performance, and rather being worn down by all the excitement he says he is invigorated and raring to go again when Wales pitch up at Meggetland tomorrow [Friday] night.
“There are a few [Scotland Under-20s] boys who have been in training with Edinburgh as well this year – like Connor Boyle, Jack Mann and Charlie Jupp – so it’s good for anyone to get that experience,” he said. “I went to train with them on Monday and then Dougie Fife pulled out and Duhan van der Merwe pulled out, so I was meant to be the travelling reserve, but I was told on Friday that I was starting. Obviously, I was very excited, but I was pretty nervous at the same time.
“It was a big step up but all the guys were so helpful, Tom Brown and Damien Hoyland calmed me down, basically kept chatting to me all the time and just kept me calm. They said: ‘If you make a mistake, you just have to get on with it’. It was a really good experience.”
There is no doubt that Blain will benefit in the longer term from getting that opportunity to test himself at the next level, but is he fatigued going into his fourth huge match in as many weeks?
“I was given Monday and Tuesday off so for me it was alright,” replied the Heriot’s winger, who came through Stewarts Melville College and was a star of the Scotland Under-18s team which achieved a clean sweep at last April’s Six Nations Festival. “It was just a boost to my confidence, being able to do that.”
The Under-20s have yet to taste victory in this year’s championship and with Wales on a high after beating England last time out, they will need to be at their very best to break their duck this weekend – but Blain believes the team have drawn confidence from being competitive in all three matches played so far.
“I think the last three games we have been there or thereabouts in parts,” he said. “We have played well for spells of about 20 minutes, but we need to produce a 70 or ideally 80-minute performance. We’ve improved throughout the weeks, but it has been frustrating because we could have won those game and we didn’t. If we can get it right for 70 minutes then I think we’ll be doing pretty well.
“Wales have got a good back-row, it will be physical but hopefully we’ll have a performance we can be proud of.”
While not having his star winger available for the earlier part of a match week is not ideal preparation for such a big game, Under-20s head coach Carl Hogg believes that is offset by the morale boost to the whole squad which has been delivered by Blain’s Edinburgh call-up.
“It’s fantastic, the Under-20’s are a vehicle for young men to prove a point and move into the professional game, whether that’s through Edinburgh and Glasgow, and to ultimately play for Scotland. For someone like Jack to get that experience last Saturday against Benetton makes him a great flag-bearer for the whole of the group,” he said.
“Pro rugby isn’t that far in front of where we are, but you’ve got to have players who perform and deliver consistently under pressure. I think Jack’s been probably our outstanding player of the first three games and it’s just great recognition for him. I thought he did really well in the simple things during that game. There wasn’t a huge amount of opportunities for him with ball in hand, but defensively he was really sound.”