Mike Blair’s early success as a head coach can be credited to his deep rugby knowledge, tactical nous and personable nature, according to former Edinburgh and Scotland team-mate Chris Paterson.
Edinburgh climbed above Leinster to sit top of the United Rugby Championship thanks to a 34-10 victory over Cardiff at the DAM Health Stadium on Saturday.
The achievement marks the first time the club have reached the summit of a combined league table since the 2009-10 Celtic League season.
Paterson – the all-time leading points scorer for both Edinburgh and Scotland – played alongside Blair in that side and was confident the former scrum-half, who has previous coaching experience with Glasgow and the national team, had all the attributes required to succeed in the top job, having replaced Richard Cockerill ahead of the current campaign.
“He was a really clever player,” Paterson told the PA news agency. “He was also a really clever coach at Glasgow, as well as with the national team, so I knew there was a lot of experience, nous, understanding and drive going in there.
“It’s obviously his first job as a head coach and there will have been an uncertainty around it from outside, but they’ve answered that in the best way possible by winning almost all their games and, as importantly, playing a brilliant brand of rugby.
“He was such an instinctive player who just knew the game. He has a deep rugby knowledge. He’d win all the quizzes with his knowledge of former players, results and teams – not only in Scotland but all over.
“So he had that historical knowledge, he had the game-playing ability to be in the right place at the right time, as well as all the technical skills and understanding.
“He was a real rugby person and, on top of that, just a motivational, warm person as well. You look at some of the performances he had as a player, leaving everything out there – totally committed, totally courageous and a warm person with it.
“I always assumed and ultimately knew that he would end up involved in the game when he stopped playing, and that transition’s been really good for him.
“He has a lot of rugby experience, but he’s also worked with a lot of experienced coaches as well. So far it’s been a really positive move and it looks like the squad and the club are enjoying having him.”
Edinburgh have won all but two of their eight URC matches so far this season, drawing 20-20 with the Stormers and losing to a last-gasp Leonardo Marin drop goal in a 28-27 defeat at Benetton, while they opened their Challenge Cup campaign with a victory at Saracens.
Summer signings including Ben Vellacott and Argentinian duo Emiliano Boffelli and Ramiro Moyano have had a big impact since arriving in the Scottish capital, giving Blair a depth of quality to choose from.
“A lot of teams could say the same, but it’s hard to pick a first team because there is so much quality, there is so much depth,” added Paterson.
“It’s a great problem to have, but it brings added difficulties for a coach, especially a young coach, in managing that transition between resting players or bringing international players into it when they’ve been away and coming back.
“But it’s a quality squad and what’s impressed me most is that, whoever’s played, the team have played very similarly. They’ve all slotted in and played well in the style that Mike has developed at Edinburgh.
“It’s a difficult thing to manage, but it’s been going very well.”
Edinburgh have played a game more than second-placed Leinster, who they now lead by four points, and are yet to play any of the Irish provinces, but Paterson is hopeful Blair’s side can continue to challenge at the top end of the table.
“I think they’ll push to sustain the performance level and hopefully for them it’s good enough to overcome the challenges that come,” said Paterson.
Meanwhile, 20-year-old centre Matt Currie, who has made five appearances for Edinburgh since making his debut last February, has penned his first professional deal with his boyhood club.