(With thanks Edinburgh Rugby for this photograph.)
On February 14, Stewart’s Melville College Former Pupil Jack Blain (Class of 2018) signed a new professional deal with Edinburgh Rugby.
Seven days later, on February 21, Jack turned the milestone age of 21 so it is fair to say that that week - and February in general - will not be one that he will forget in a hurry!
“It was an amazing few days,” the wing/full-back said.
“In terms of the contract, it is just nice to know that my immediate future is taken care of and I can really get my head down and try and build on the progress I have made this season at Edinburgh to date.
“When I was younger and coming through at Stewart’s Melville College, I would head down on Friday nights to watch the Edinburgh home games with my mates, so I’m really proud to be able to continue playing for the club I've supported since I was young.
“My aim is to just keep enjoying my rugby, play as many games for Edinburgh as I can and try to improve and learn as much as possible with every opportunity that I get to pull on the jersey.”
“The Scottish Schools Cup Final was Unbelievable!”
Jack started playing rugby when he was in primary school with the Stew Mel Lions and then began also playing school rugby around P4 age at SMC.
Like a lot of youngsters growing up, he tried to get involved in as many sporting activities as possible, also enjoying cricket and athletics.
Rugby then took over for him and, after previously playing for Scotland under-16s, he was involved with the national team’s under-18s by the time he was in S5 in 2016/17.
That was also the year that SMC’s First XV won the Scottish Schools’ Cup at under-18 level, beating Dollar in a very exciting final at BT Murrayfield in December 2016.
“Having been at the 2010/11 Scottish Schools’ Cup final when I was in P6, and cheering the team to victory [SMC edged out Edinburgh Academy 19-10 in that one], I knew just how important getting to that match on the big stage was for any school rugby team,” Jack, who scored a try in the final he played in, recounts.
“And when we got there in 2016/17 the Scottish Schools’ Cup final was unbelievable. The whole school was cheering us on and we scored some nice tries, but Dollar stayed with us right until the end.
“Going into the closing stages we were losing [32-29], but a mistake by Dollar gave us one last chance and we managed to take it.
“Everyone was very nervous - our Coach Bryn Lockie could not even watch the lineout we took! - but the forwards stayed calm and when front-rower Rory O’Hara went over for the winning try we were ecstatic, we couldn’t believe we had done it.”
After O’Hara’s try, Captain Ross Thompson kicked the conversion to finish things off at 36-32 after a breathless schoolboy rugby clash.
Stand-off Thompson, the 21-year-old who left SMC in 2017, himself recently penned a new professional deal with Glasgow Warriors while Connor Boyle, who turned 21 two days before Jack, played in that Dollar match in the back-row and is now making his own way with Edinburgh too.
“To have come through the school with Connor in the same year and to have someone else like Ross doing the same thing as us in terms of rugby is a great help,” Jack explains.
“We are all good friends and myself and Connor used to be flatmates, so it just helps having people in the same boat as you who you can message or phone to chat through things - whether they are ups or downs.”
Learning From the Experienced Players Around Him
During those two seasons Jack was playing his club rugby for Heriot’s in the Tennent’s Premiership and then Heriot’s in the semi-pro FOSROC Super6 while he was also making his way through the pro team’s Academy set-up.
“I learnt a lot from all of my experiences with Heriot’s and the under-20s over those two years and always tried to take the things that I had learnt into my training sessions with Edinburgh,” Jack said.
“A couple of months after I left school, I was given my Edinburgh debut in a pre-season friendly against Bath at Boroughmuir’s Meggetland ground [in August 2018] and while I was shocked to get a chance so early in my senior rugby career, I also learnt a lot from that and have taken things from it into my subsequent appearances at a pro level.
“I play winger or full-back and I enjoy both positions. With quite a lot of our Edinburgh players on Scotland duties for a large part of 2020/21 to date, it has been nice to play a number of games during the season to help give me some momentum and boost my confidence.
“And having a whole host of Scotland internationals - along with Fijian Eroni Sau - at Edinburgh in the positions I play has also helped me massively.
“Take guys like Darcy Graham and Blair Kinghorn for example. They are just a few years older than me and they have both done really well at the top level for a few seasons now with club and country.
“Just being in and around them and seeing the way they go about things in training has been really beneficial.
“Scoring tries on the international stage is what every young winger and every young full-back wants to do, so I just have to keep on growing as a person and as a player.”
Despite all of his rugby commitments, Jack still has time to study part-time on an Economics and Business course at Heriot-Watt University and all at ESMS are very proud of what he is doing on and off the pitch!
By Gary Heatly