JAPAN appears to be the place to go for former Scotland scrum-halves looking to earn their spurs as a coach, with Mike Blair announcing yesterday that he is to join Greig Laidlaw in the land of the rising sun next season.

Laidlaw brought the curtain down on his distinguished 16-year playing career back in April after spending the last three seasons in the J-League, and announced at that point that he plans to stay in Japan a while longer as he takes his fledgling steps into coaching, although he has not yet confirmed which club he will be working with.

Tantalisingly, Laidlaw will now find himself pitting his wits against another former Scotland captain and one of the men he replaced in the national No.9 jersey with Blair having been recruited as an attack coach by former Glasgow Warriors and Australia boss Dave Rennie, who is now director of rugby at Kobe Steelers.

Blair is, of course, the more experienced coach at this stage, having had spells as an assistant with both Glasgow Warriors and the senior Scotland team before taking charge of Edinburgh in the summer of 2021. However, the top job did not rest easily on the 42-year-old’s shoulders and he announced back in February that he would be stepping away from the capital hot-seat in order to focus on becoming “a world-class attack coach”.

It was widely assumed that Blair would be retained by Scottish Rugby through an assistant role at either one of the pro teams or with the national side (he has a close relationship with Gregor Townsend), however this decision to move into a completely different rugby environment makes sense from a developmental perspective.

“Moving to Kobe is an incredible opportunity for my family and I,” said Blair. “I stayed in Kobe with the Scottish national team for the Rugby World Cup in 2019 and thought it would be a great place to live.

“I’m also really excited to be working with Dave Rennie again [having previously coached under the New Zealander at Glasgow Warriors during the 2018-19 season], I can learn so much from him and the other coaches.

“The Kobe Steelers are filled with extremely talented players and I look forward to bringing out their full potential and contributing to the club’s success.”

Rennie took over the director of rugby role at the Japanese outfit last month, having been sacked by Rugby Australia in January after managing a winning record of only 38 per cent since taking over as head coach of the Wallabies in 2020.

He wasted little time in recruiting Wesley Clarke (a defence coach) and Phil Healey (who he worked with as a strength and conditioning coach with Rennie at the Chiefs and Glasgow) to his back-room team, and has now added Blair to that line-up.

Steelers finished ninth in the Japanese Top League last season with former All Blacks assistant coach Wayne Smith at the helm. They have been a mid-table team since winning the league back in 2019, which was the last full season played before Covid.

Two of the higher-profile names Blair will work with next season are stand-off Bryn Gatland (the son of Wales head coach Warren) and All Blacks centurion second-row Brodie Retallick, who have both announced that they will join the club from the Chiefs in their native New Zealand next season.

Former All Blacks winger/centre Ngani Laumape is another player who Blair will be looking forward to working with.

Edinburgh are still in the process of recruiting a replacement for Blair, with Steve Diamond – who was brought to the club at the start of March as lead rugby consultant – currently overseeing pre-season training.

“This opportunity enables Mike to continue his development as a coach in a new and different environment, focusing on attack, an area of the game that he is hugely passionate about,” said Edinburgh managing director Doug Struth.

“All at the club wish Mike and his family the very best for this move.

We can’t thank him enough for his part in driving Edinburgh Rugby forward.

“He remains a club centurion and legend who will always be welcome back on match night.”

Meanwhile, Glasgow Warriors have scheduled a pre-season match against United Rugby Championship rivals Zebre Parma at Scotstoun on Saturday 20th April, with access included in the club’s season ticket membership.

Winger Jacob Henry, meanwhile, and second-row Jamie Campbell – both 22 – have become the latest academy prospects to be promoted to Edinburgh’s senior squad. They follow in the footsteps of full-backs Harry Patterson and Nathan Sweeney, stand-off/centre Cammy Scott, loose-head prop Mike Gray and hooker Patrick Harrison in making the step up during the last six months.