THE election of the next Vice-President of the Scottish Rugby Union is a two-horse race between a couple of highly-experienced club administrators in Colin Rigby of Stewart’s Melville and Keith Wallace of Haddington.
The vote will take place on August 15th at the organisation’s Annual General Meeting, which is set to be held via video link this year in deference to the travel and social distancing restrictions required by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The successful candidate’s principle role during the next two years will be to support and learn the ropes from Ian Barr, the current Vice-President who is stepping up to President, with the expectation that they will then be elevated to the top job in 2022.
Furthermore, as one of only two Council members – alongside the President – who has been elected in a vote of all member clubs, the Vice-President also has an important role to play in that important supervisory body, and there is an ambassadorial element to the job as well.
Rigby and Wallace have spent the last few weeks pitching themselves at a series of league fora hustings, and have now taken time out of their busy schedules to answer 10 key questions from The Offside Line, which we hope will give our readers a sense of what they can bring to the role.
In part one, the two candidates provide an overview as to why they believe they are the right fit for the job, explain what they hope to achieve during their tenure, and discuss how the community/club game should be handled going forward in order to future-proof rugby at all levels in this country.
1. Why do you want to be Vice-President of the Scottish Rugby Union? Please limit this answer to 25 words.
Colin Rigby [CR]:
The club game is my passion: I want to help improve communication with clubs and assist them to not only survive current times but develop.
Keith Wallace [KW]:
To combine two of my great passions: rugby and governance; bringing new blood to help my good friend Ian Barr ensure clubs’ views are heard.
2. What are your aims/targets as Vice-President? And how can stakeholders measure your success against those aims/targets?
#TEAM is the banner I am standing behind. With the support and engagement of a newly elected and refreshed Council, together with a re-engagement with members of the BTM Executive, I will seek to deliver #TEAM in a number of ways: in the context of your question, it stands for:
T – transparency and communication. From the publication of Council reports to the deliberations of our Board, and from clarity on the cost of running the pro and domestic games to identifying and seeking the input of specific, skilled and experienced individuals from club-land to help develop and execute specific initiatives – these are simply just some of issues that we, as a body of collective interests, have the right if not the need to fully understand if the ‘trust’ everyone craves is to start being rebuilt.
E – everyone! Nobody, especially at this current time, deserves to be marginalised. And whatever any single club or individuals’ engagement with our Union may be – whether as a full or associate member, a match or a club official, a man or woman, a senior or junior – we’re all in ‘this’ together. My principal objective as VP is to ensure that each and every voice from club-land is heard at the appropriate levels of BTM.
A – “ambassadorial” role. Yes, I know that does sounds a bit pompous! But I believe there are specific areas of our game where the VP can use his position, reach and influence within the SRU to champion a range of causes, specifically the areas of travel, match official development, schools and youth rugby, women’s rugby, the age-grade set up and our relationship with Uni and College rugby – they all need specific attention in my opinion, for we need to build the ‘rugby presence’ in each.
Each face unique challenges but young people, whether at school or in further education, are the lifeblood of our game and the future of our clubs: and without officials, our game is simply ‘nought’. I believe the club game via the SRU needs to establish a much more visible and supportive presence within each of these groups. And I would start with new ‘Steering Groups’ in each of these areas to tackle their specific needs by injecting some fresh and innovative thinking, especially from individuals that might be recruited from within club-land with specific expertise. For we know our game do we not, and we don’t need expensive outside consultants to tell us what we should or need to be doing!
M – stands for “momentum”! I believe we need to start afresh, set aside the turbulent times of the last 18 months – for the truth will out in the end, as it always does – and together create our own momentum for a club focussed strategy, addressing issues such as player retention, the expansion of our game into “new pastures”, the development of our talented youth and, yes, the progress of the professional game.
How can my ‘success’ in these areas be measured? I am honestly not sure of the answer to that question. But what I can say (again, honestly), is that I’m not standing as VP to be a ‘success’ – I’m standing as VP to deliver change that will help develop, improve and strengthen our domestic game. On that basis, if we’re able to see some movement in the areas I’ve outlined above – matters upon which I’m absolutely determined to deliver change – I’ll think the pint I’ll have at the end of my term will go down all the better! What I will say, however, is that I can’t bring about the kind of change I think club-land deserves on my own – it’ll take a collective and positive effort from us all to position us well for the future.
Firstly, I truly believe that: “The essence of the Union is that the Club Game and the Professional Game need each other to prosper”. The top end brings in the revenue and showcases the game, whilst clubs introduce players to the game. I want to promote this mutual dependency.
Secondly, I see the need to improve ‘Strategy’, ‘Scrutiny’ and ‘Advocacy’ areas which the present governance has been failing on, causing concern within the clubs.
Thirdly, a key part of ‘Strategy’ will be investing from the bottom up to be sustainable, building a pyramid with strong foundations with objectives aligned and everyone working to a common goal, improving clubs, academies, structures and systems to optimise player development, pathways and crucially retention.
Success can be measured by:
Seeing clear public acknowledgement from both ends of the game of the importance of this mutual dependency and more examples of working together as a result.
a) Clubs being involved in developing a new strategy, with simple clear objectives, which are front and centre of communication and which are aligned to, and have the buy-in of, the whole of Scottish rugby.
b) Clear evidence that all proposals thereafter fit the strategy and make sense (as a result of being fully scrutinised before being enacted), including greater transparency on financial matters (e.g. better breakdowns on cost and income of the International, Pro and Club Game).
c) The game as a whole being talked up in Scotland, including a budget to market the Club game.
An increased proportion of income being reinvested in the Club game, building a bigger base with much improved links between different levels of the game, so that pathways are clear. Whilst we want to encourage all to play at the highest level they can, too many players are lost to the game when they fail to make the highest grade. So more:
players going into pathways
ex-pathway players being retained in the game.
3. Is the club game a continuum of the professional game or are they two entirely unconnected activities? If the latter, then how do you think the club game should be structured and what should its objectives be?
Yes, but then again, no!
If we are to provide Gregor (plus Philip Doyle, Danny Wilson and Richard Cockerill) with the very best indigenous talent that is available, we need a strong and competitive domestic game, at all levels and across all age-groups. So, this is one of the areas I want to bring the focus of the VP position to. Because it’s our schools and clubs’ youth sections that will provide us all with the Stuart Hoggs, Jonny Grays and Rachel Malcolms of the future.
But our young players need to be developed – I am sure we can all agree on that – and we must find the right coaching and playing environment for these guys and girls to flourish. And for that to happen, the SRU with the coaching and conditioning resources available to it has to step in, albeit responsibly.
What no one can deny – not even the most hardened SRU critic – is that the needs of the domestic and pro games are different – and quite markedly in many respects. That being so, they each have to be resourced according to their needs, but not one at the expense of the other, and always within (and under) the financial opportunities and constraints that our Union should and must operate.
What we can’t continue to have is a situation where the clubs, as principal stakeholders of the Scottish Rugby Union, don’t understand or have explained to them what those ‘needs’ are.
Essentially, there’s an almost symbiotic relationship between these two areas of our game. Personally, I believed in the structure we had for domestic rugby pre-Covid 19. But it’s not for me to pontificate or dictate what the structure of our club game should be in the future. It’s for the clubs themselves to tell Council what they want and for Council to listen – and I’ll move heaven and earth to make sure that they have their say and whatever the majority view is, it’s carried.
Absolutely a continuum, this combines two of my objectives: ‘The Essence of the Union’ and ‘The need to invest from the bottom up’. A pyramid structure with a continuum between club and professional games has brought long-running success in New Zealand. We are too small a country not to have this, and need to work hard on far better connectivity.
I have a feeling that Jim Mallinder could really help here. I recall when sponsoring the Borders in 2006-7, going to see them play Northampton in the Heineken Cup, just before his time there. The minis of the local clubs Northampton had links to were playing a series of matches on the back pitches before the game, with all the non-playing professional players mingling with kids, mums and dads. This translated into a full house at Franklin Gardens that afternoon. Northampton were hugely successful in these years with a lot of locally produced players. When you get pro players at your club they are always brilliant with kids, it is getting access to them which is the issue. How about all clubs having a pro player attached with at least two visits a season?
4. Where do you stand on Super6? Are there alternative structures that should be considered?
Super6 is here and we must stop looking backwards. Decisions were made that this was the way forward and the subject was vigorously debated amongst the clubs at various foras. I believe we will not understand whether this structure is viable until at least the end of its third or thanks to Covid possibly its fourth season, from both a playing and financial perspective. Thereafter, decisions such as continuation, expansion or cessation can be considered with the benefit of meaningful data to hand. For the avoidance of doubt, however, my personal opinion is that the Super6 should sit under Performance Rugby and not Domestic Rugby from an operational and funding perspective, and should form part of the overall pathway structure for players seeking to play at the highest level possible, and as a development tool for players, coaches and officials.
Firstly, we do need a semi-professional level to our game where playing, coaching, medical and S&C resources are concentrated, as part of the pyramid structure set out in my answers to questions 2 and 3.
I see the need to ‘Plan, Do, Review’. I was one of many critics of the ‘Plan’ stage but that is now behind us. Covid-19 has prevented a full season on the ‘Do’ stage. We need this to be completed.
However, already we do have a serious issue with too many fringe pro-players and fringe Super6 players not getting game time. For too long we have wrestled with such interface issues in Scottish Rugby, especially ‘playing down’ which seldom works for players or receiving clubs. This is one area I would review now.
Given the severe financial consequences of Covid-19, might a simple first step towards an improved pyramid be:
- smaller professional and Super6 squads, with players released cascading down
- players then getting more games, clubs having more players
- then far more ‘playing up’ when required, rather than ‘playing down’?
Again, I think Jim Mallinder could be someone who can work with all parties to review this.
5. What are your views on club rugby as an ‘open’ game in which there may be payments to players in the higher leagues?
My position on player payments? It’s simple: payment for players playing in S6 and the Premiership: fine, if that’s what those clubs want and have the resources to meet. Beyond that (as we’re currently set up): no. You simply can’t have either a level playing field between two teams in, say, Nat 1 or East 2 if one side fields half a dozen players who’re paid as semi-pro’s and an opposition comprising guys, the majority of whom may be students or last year’s Colts side, who aren’t. I believe we all have a collective responsibility for player welfare and if our game is to grow and flourish, such mismatches must not be allowed to happen or facilitated by our structure at all levels of our game.
Firstly, as someone who strongly supports the democratic process at SGMs and AGMs and therefore the collective will of clubs emerging from this, I support the overwhelming majority result from the clubs on the changes we are now about to enter into, namely no payment of players below the Premiership.
My only concerns are that might we see a return to the ‘Shamatuerism’ days with brown envelopes of cash and creative expenses; and might we lose some players from the game who may have been getting modest above board compensation from clubs, for example for loss of shifts on a Saturday, or have come from overseas exchanges? At the point of lockdown my club had two players about to spend a season at a club in New Zealand with whom we have enjoyed an informal relationship for nearly 30 years. Such exchanges provide great life experiences for young players, add to mix at clubs, and are usually helped by some modest support from the receiving club. It would be a shame if this was lost.
As with all major decisions, we need to ‘plan, do and review’. So, all I would seek is that once we have implemented, the impacts are kept under review.
In part two, published tomorrow, the thorny issue of governance goes under the microscope, as does player numbers and the women’s game – plus the two candidates reveal their favourite rugby memory.