Peter is a sports writer at the Bay of Plenty Times

Steamers flanker Hugh Blake living the dream

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TOP CLASS: Former Scottish international Hugh Blake in action for Bay of Plenty against Taranaki. PHOTO/FILE
TOP CLASS: Former Scottish international Hugh Blake in action for Bay of Plenty against Taranaki. PHOTO/FILE

Most rugby players would be proud to have played for NZ Under-20s, Otago, Bay of Plenty, Highlanders, Scotland and Scotland Sevens by the end of a long career.

But Hugh Blake has achieved all that at the tender age of 23.

The Steamers openside flanker was hoping his opportunity to join Bay of Plenty for this year's Mitre 10 Cup was the first of many seasons here.

In the back of his mind was selection for higher honours at Super Rugby level and with Scotland again one day.

But, typical of a boy who grew up on dairy farms in Pongakawa and Pirongia, he was not getting ahead of himself.

Blake's career moved quickly once he moved to Otago University.

He made his provincial debut for Otago, ironically against Bay of Plenty in 2012, made NZ Under-20s and then was picked up by the Highlanders.

But serious shoulder, elbow and knee injuries curtailed his progress so Scotland was again an option (Blake's grandparents on his father's side are from Glasgow).

"I was approached by Scotland after I made New Zealand 20s but I had just made the Highlanders so I turned it down," Blake said.

"Then when I got injured again I needed a change so I approached them. I went initially on a four month trial but ended up making Scotland straight away."

Unwittingly, Blake walked into a controversy when former Bay of Plenty coach Vern Cotter picked him for Scotland before he had played a game for his club.

"I didn't get to play that Six Nations game but played against Ireland before the World Cup and had a really good game," Blake said.

"I thought I was quite unlucky not to make that World Cup squad but they only ended up taking one openside flanker."

Blake played six games for Scotland Sevens but he could not get regular game time for Glasgow Warriors.

"By the end of that and why I made the decision to come back (to New Zealand) is I had not really had enough fifteens as I wanted.

"I want to play for Scotland again but it is tough to do when you are not playing, so it was a good opportunity to get more exposure by playing here."

Bay of Plenty was always Blake's number one preference.

"When the Bay came up as an option it was a no-brainer for me. Other places I had options at I would not have had an alliance to the jersey at all like coming back to where I am from.

"It is easy to get up for games and I have always wanted to live in the Bay. I have heaps of friends here and family."

Blake's rapid rise in the leadership group saw him take over the captaincy last week against Counties Manukau when Culum Retallick was injured.

"I was stoked to have the opportunity. I said to (Clayton McMillan) as long as I had the approval of some of the senior players I would love the opportunity to do it."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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