WHATEVER happens during Friday’s Super Series semi-final between table-topping Heriot’s and Stirling Wolves, the appearance of Jack Blain in blue and white No 11 jersey will be a triumph of sorts, for reasons that will become clear, even if the winger doesn’t touch the ball.
Blain spent four seasons as an Edinburgh professional, five if you count his apprentice year, and in that time he managed just 26 competitive appearances, scoring a creditable five tries in the process, but paying a high price for his trouble.
As any young player will testify, all anyone wants to do at that age is play regular rugby. Instead Blain, and a host of other young professionals, are paid good money to watch from the stands. It is hugely dispiriting, something that Super Series was created to ameliorate, and Blain concedes he had rather fallen out of love with the game by the time Edinburgh declined to extend his contract last summer.
“When I went and met Ben Cains [Heriots’ head coach] for a coffee he said the most important thing is to play with a smile on your face and that was all the motivation I needed,” recalls Blain.
“I needed to get back because, initially, I loved playing rugby and I think I fell away from that in the last couple of years, not getting many opportunities.
“Every player just wants to play games. It was a shame it didn’t work out at Edinburgh, that I didn’t get more games, but for Ben to say that and Eddo [Stuart Edwards, Heriots assistant coach], who I have known since I was 12-years-old [as a schoolboy at Stewart’s Melville College], saying it’s good to see me with a smile on my face is just what I needed.
“That is why I am really enjoying it because I am playing week-in and week-out and getting 80 minutes under my belt.”
When Edinburgh first declined to extend Blain’s contract the winger took himself off to Australia where he joined a bunch of young Scots, including Christian Townsend, son of Gregor, turning out for the Warringah Rats in Sydney’s Shute Shield.
He returned to Edinburgh in the middle of September with no plans to play rugby whatsoever, which was just as well because Heriots’ Super Series squad had spent their money and filled their roster; right up to the point when centre Ben Evans took a nasty blow to his melon.
That gave Cairns the wriggle room he needed and the coach picked up the phone and gave the winger strict instructions to enjoy himself. Blain has done exactly that ever since and it helps that Heriot’s have expansive rugby wired into their DNA, scoring 107 more points than the Bulls, their nearest rivals. The Goldenacre men have smash and grabbed their way to a whopping 74 tries in the regular Super Series season at the rate of six per game and Blain has slotted into this high scoring squad like he was born to it.
Since his return to his former club, Heriot’s have played five matches, the prodigal son has been involved in four of them. He was unused off the bench against the Southern Knights in the recent 21-21 draw. In the three games that Blain has started the winger has scored a remarkable nine tries, four in a try-fest against the Bulls, two against the Wolves, when they last met, and a hat-trick against Watsonians at the end of October.
Heriots’ new(ish) recruit is clearly on a hot streak, fast closing in on the league’s top try scorer, Wolves’ own winger Ross McKnight, another tall and speedy prospect out wide, who currently has 12 touchdowns to his name.
“Wolves will offer a threat with the ball in hand,” says Blain, looking forward to Friday evening’s encounter. “They have the league’s top try-scorer [McKnight] on the wing although we both play on the left so we are not going head-to-head.
“At full-back they field Glenn Bryce who has played for Edinburgh, Glasgow and Scotland Sevens. He can create something out of nothing. It’s fair to say that our game-plan will involve giving as little time and space as possible to those two guys.”
This is Scottish rugby so inevitably there are numerous closs-overs between the two teams. Cairns coached Wolves before taking over Heriot’s last summer. His assistant, Edwards, learned his trade at Bridgehaugh and various players like centre Grant Hughes, replacement back-row Wallace Nelson and replacement utility-back Ross Jones have taken the trip up (or down) the M9 in recent years. The two teams know each other well and no one expects a repeat of the 47-14 rollicking that Heriot’s inflicted on the Wolves earlier this season.
Friday’s semi-final will be played at Lasswade’s ground since Goldenacre is without floodlights. Might that be the chink in Heriots’ armour that fourth placed Stirling, with six wins from 12 matches, can capitalise on to cause an upset against the league winners, who have ten wins to their name?
“It’s a shame it’s not at Goldenacre but …”, Blain leaves that thought hanging in the air. “I have played there [Lasswade’s Hawthornden ground] before and we trained there this week. I don’t think it will really affect us to be honest. I know everyone thinks it’s a shame not to play at Goldenacre because we worked hard to get that home semi-final. It’s just the way it is.
“I don’t think it will phase us where we play the game. Everyone is just focused on getting the result.”
Blain is finishing off the last two years of a degree in Business Management at Heriot Watt University, but does his experience with Edinburgh mean that he is done with pro-rugby or might there be another chapter of that story which is yet to be written?
“I wouldn’t say I am done with the pro game,” he says hesitantly. “Unfortunately nothing came up for me when I wasn’t kept on at Edinburgh, so I am just trying to get my Uni (degree) done.
“I have just loved being down at Heriots’ and loved playing there but I wouldn’t want to say I am done with the pro game because I feel like I have more to give.”
- Super Series Semi-Final One
- Friday 10th November
- Kick-off 7:35pm
- Heriot’s Rugby v Stirling Wolves
- Hawthornden, Lasswade RFC
- Friday 10th November