It might sound like a summer sightseeing tour, but Mike Blair insists Newcastle Falcons’ pre-season travels around the North East have left him digging deep into his energy reserves.
The Scottish veteran has been out and about round the region as his side prepares for the Premiership kick-off at Leicester on September 6, revealing: “The programme has been well structured with a lot of power work and speed training, but I have not enjoyed the Fridays.
“We have been on the sand dunes at Druridge Bay, hauling ourselves up the steps at South Shields, running up the hill on the Town Moor and cycling round Kielder Reservoir.
“Last year it was running round it whereas this time we are on the bikes, but to be honest I would prefer to do it on foot. Cycling seems to be all about whether you did it when you were young, and I wasn’t much of a bike rider.
“I was more into my tennis and golf so I don’t have that background behind me – not that I am getting my excuses in or anything!”
Taking part in only his second full pre-season having retired from international rugby in 2012, the 85-times-capped scrum-half said: “It is longer this time round, because last year with the Championship finishing so late we weren’t back in training until July 1. This has been longer by three weeks, but it has been a good opportunity to build properly.
“There have been elements of good progress even at this early stage, and we have managed to get our hands on a rugby ball for a few bits and bobs. It has been more conditioning games rather than out-and-out rugby, but with Dave Walder coming onto the coaching team he has been keen to put across his attacking philosophy.”
The former Falcons and England fly-half has returned to his old club as attack coach following Peter Russell’s departure, Blair declaring himself impressed by the clarity of his instructions.
He said: “It is important to understand what Dave wants us to do, and his contribution so far has been very positive. He is very clear in his mind what he wants, and he has put it across to the players really well.
“That is one of the key things because if you know what your coach wants then you know how you fit into the plan, and it is easier to be called up on an error when they are being so specific about things.
“Hearing a new voice also gives it a bit of an extra buzz, and everybody is automatically listening in when he speaks.”
In terms of game-plan, Blair added: “Things have been simplified a little, although it is difficult to say too much when we are so early into the whole thing.
“You can go through patterns as much as you like in training, but when you play a game and have to put four men into a ruck instead of three – that is when you ultimately find out how it is working.
“But from the outset we know what he wants, and everybody is clear on that. It makes things easier, and players respond to it.”
Hoping to benefit from the installation of a new plastic pitch at their Kingston Park home, the Scot said: “I was pretty frustrated with how last season went, personally.
“A lot of that was due to how conditions were, and when you play with wind, rain and a heavy field it limits what you can do. I see myself as a top-of-the-ground player, and hopefully the new pitch should speed things up from that perspective.
“For the squad we have got I think it will be beneficial, although equally it will be beneficial for other teams to come here and play on a great surface all year round. For us to impropve what we are trying to do, though, it will be a great addition.”