Scotland feeling the heat
Mike Blair admits Scotland are under pressure heading into Saturday's match against Italy.
Last Updated: 26/02/09 11:37am
Captain Mike Blair admits Scotland are under pressure heading into the RBS Six Nations match with Italy at Murrayfield.
Both sides have lost their opening two games in the tournament and whoever loses on Saturday will be prime candidates for the wooden spoon.
Scotland are also looking to avoid a humiliating third successive Six Nations defeat to Italy.
"I think that there's always a certain amount of pressure to perform for your country," said Edinburgh scrum-half Blair.
"We've got a lot of expectation from people at the game, people watching the game, and from the players themselves to perform.
"We've not done that to a high enough standard yet and we're hoping that this will be an opportunity to show what we can do."
On their last visit to Murrayfield two years ago, Italy claimed their maiden Six Nations away victory.
Blair was not part of the side that day but he was captain when Scotland went down in Rome last year.
Yet, he insists he and his team-mates are not focusing on what a hat-trick of Six Nations losses to the Azzurri might mean.
"I don't think we're looking at the implications of it," added Blair.
"We've had two games, we've had the week's training before and training this week, and we're definitely gelling as a squad.
"For us to make the next step forward, this is a very important game."
Blair also shrugged off criticism from legendary predecessor Gavin Hastings over Scotland's poor recent record.
Hastings, who tasted Grand Slam glory during his nine-year Test career, claimed head coach Frank Hadden's position would become untenable should Scotland lose to Italy again.
Upon being made aware of Hastings' comments, Blair was asked if they were "water off a duck's back".
"Yes," was his only response, possibly in an attempt to avoid a war of words with the man who is also his chairman at Edinburgh.
But Blair did not dispute suggestions Saturday's game could define Scotland's Six Nations campaign.
"It's certainly time to step up," he continued. "We've not performed to the best of our abilities in the first two games.
"This is an opportunity where we can hopefully do that."
Italy produced an improved performance in defeat against Ireland last time out and Blair is full of respect.
"The Italians have got off to a relatively stodgy start to the tournament as well," he noted.
"They were much improved against Ireland and I think the way they defended put the Irish under a lot of pressure.
"And, certainly in the first half, they made the Irish look like a very average team.
"Patience is going to be key in this game; it's certainly not going to be a runaway victory.
"We're going to have to stick at it for 60, 70, 80 minutes and hopefully tire them down and produce a result through that.
"Italy, against Ireland, gave away a lot of penalties. They're a relatively ill-disciplined side, so the more you hold onto the ball and build the phases, the better."