IN the second and final part of The Offside Line’s informal hustings for the two candidates standing to become the next Vice President of the Scottish Rugby Union, Keith Wallace and Colin Rigby are challenged on governance, playing numbers, support for the women’s game and their long-term vision for the sport in this country.
The election of the next Vice President will take place at the SRU AGM on 15th August.
6. Governance has been a hot topic in Scottish Rugby in recent years. Is the current system fit for purpose? If not, what changes would you propose?
Keith Wallace [KW]:
We have seen too many failures of governance over the last few years, including a number of times where we the clubs, the members of the Union, have been ridden roughshod over. Problems will continue if there is not a change of approach.
That change of approach will be the topic of the Governance Review under Ian Barr, so it would be inappropriate of me to propose changes before this.
What is appropriate is to set some objectives of how we might like the governance system to be judged, I set out my thought on this in my manifesto’s “Vision for Governance”.
“The Scottish Rugby Union will have a governance model which helps all to work together in union, to maximise participation, performance and sustainability at all levels, which has simply understood structures and processes, is open and transparent, with a clear strategy, scrutinised by people representing the members who live and actively advocate the values of rugby.”
Until such time as the Governance Review reports and any ensuing recommendations are voted on by the Clubs, I shall work hard with Ian and the Council to bring improvement in ‘Strategy, Scrutiny and Advocacy’ and in doing so help the Council on behalf of the Clubs fulfil their obligation under Bye law 14.2.3: “To review and, where appropriate, advise the Scottish Rugby Board on matters of policy and strategy with particular regard to rugby”. This will have particular focus on restarting the game, as Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, with ensuring safety of all participants and sustainability of clubs the main short-term concerns emerging from my discussions with clubs during this campaign.
Colin Rigby [CR]:
Let me be quite clear on this topic, the clubs unanimously asked for an independent governance review at the 2018 AGM. We then had the Gammell Murray Review, there were also other “governance issues” being looked at by various working parties and task forces. The clubs then asked the last (Bradbury) Task Force to stand down, which happened. Clubs were very vocal on this, to the extent that they wished the review take place under the purview of in-coming President Ian Barr. So, this matter now properly “belongs” to him and the Committee he shall form (as the clubs have mandated). It’s simply not for me to ruminate on or second guess what may or may not want to happen on the issue of “Governance” – it’s for Ian and the clubs (not me) to decide how we might progress forward. But what I would say is that I’m fully supportive of this development and shall do everything I can to facilitate the Committee’s outcomes.
7. Plummeting player numbers in Scotland is a major concern, how can/should Murrayfield tackle this?
It is indeed a major concern, and without action we will see clubs fold and outlets to play our game disappear. We should not be disheartened however, there are good examples of growth around the country, such as a relatively small club like Leith now having three senior teams.
We need a coherent plan and concerted effort on a number of fronts, I would see this include:
- Acknowledging that the professional and club game need each other – my ‘essence of the Union’ – and getting greater working together such as pro players appearing at clubs.
- Increasing the share of investment in the Club game to allow: a) A central marketing budget to showcase all the great things Clubs do in their communities; b) The development of more focussed collaborative projects with clubs and the Rugby Development team, and where appropriate local government and charities, to grow or start-up the game in under-represented/underprivileged catchments. Many of my discussions with clubs have shown support for clubs helping to identify such projects, focussing on ‘local solutions to local issues’ such as targeting a local authority to get rugby on the curriculum, getting a women’s team up and running, developing clubs’ roles as community hubs, engaging with the universities to ensure players feel part of and are retained in the game.
- Working towards competition rules which encourage and reward those who get teams out, not penalise.
- Reviewing the approaches to Schools of Rugby and Conferences to optimise youth rugby.
- Sharing best practice, particularly in difficult areas such as the transition into senior rugby.
This issue is not unique to Scotland and not unique to rugby. We live in times different to the youth of many of us, where Saturdays are no longer preserved simply for rugby. I think we can all agree that today’s youth have many distractions and competing calls upon their time these days! But I’ve referred to this issue earlier in this interview so to repeat my comments again would, I suspect, only bore your readers.
However, I fundamentally believe the clubs have most of the answers themselves. What we need to do is provide them with the resources to be able to tackle the local conditions they are faced with on issues like player retention. This will require a flexible response from our Domestic Rugby Department, but I believe they have the will, talent and resource available to tackle this and similar issues. What we really need is to provide a working ‘channel’ of communication and accessible resource to make this happen: I believe this is one of the principal areas the Vice President can help with.
Above all, I believe rugby should be about fun and friendship. Remember those things? Instead of all the focus being on club accounts or the pro or international stage, how about we start to focus once again on some of the ‘better’ aspects of what we and our game is all about – Saturday Night socials, the ‘tours’ that so many of us have enjoyed and meant so much, plus those community-orientated events that help develop a sense of well-being beyond just ourselves.
8. How important is it for the President and Vice-President to not just support woman’s rugby, but champion that branch of the game?
As noted in my answer to question 6, I see women’s rugby as an important factor in growing the game. The small club my club plays against in Ireland were on their knees six/seven years ago, struggling to fulfil fixtures for their men’s team. Now they regularly field two women’s team and two men’s teams and their clubhouse is buzzing. I understand they are not alone in this.
I therefore see it as key in improving both participation and, of course, diversity, that this part of the game is championed.
EXTREMELY!! The President and Vice President are the highest office bearers in Scottish Rugby and one of the few positions elected directly by the clubs. I personally would like to see the Vice President appointed as the ambassador to the woman’s game. Significant progress has been made in the women’s game both on and off the pitch in recent years and we need to ensure that this continues at the same or even at a better pace.
9. What is your vision for Scottish rugby in 10 years’ time?
“Everyone working in Union with a common goal of ensuring our great game thrives.”
A vibrant and thriving community game with children asking to play rugby rather than being persuaded away from their games’ console. Personally, I would like to see clubs at the heart of the SRU decision-making process, taking part proactively in discussions and driving proactive change within the Union and their local community.
10. A curve ball to finish: what is your all-time favourite rugby memory, and why?
Difficult. I am blessed with loads of memories from a game that keeps giving: that tiredness after a game; any tour; scoring a try at Twickenham; holding the World Cup; cooking lunch for our ‘Old Goats XV’ (over 75s); watching ‘piano players’ like Hogg and Russell score for Scotland; the noise of a busy rugby club. All-time favourite? Organising our world record for the number of players in a game of touch, part of Rugby Force Day in 2018. 467 players from age 5 to 74, over one third female, several cases of three generations of a family, all loving our great game, with lots of essential support from BTM, their sponsors and advisors. Gives rise to the question: what do Stuart McInally, Sheila Begbie and Keith Wallace have in common? They are all record breakers! I love it when a plan comes together. The collaboration was “the very essence of the Union”.
Far too numerous to mention just one so let me have a few. Taking Brain Moore to hire a kilt outfit in Edinburgh was special! Or when the President of Stewart’s Melville introduced the President of the Scottish Rugby Union at our annual dinner with the line of “Ed, you’re on!” and who can forget the November night in 2018 when George Wilson Weir delivered a match ball – having been to school with the big fella and known him for 40 years, words cannot describe the emotion or the energy within the ground that night and the boys very nearly delivered the result !
But I would go for the 2018 comeback at Twickenham, the second half performance was the best 40 minutes of rugby I have seen from Scotland since we came within a whisker of beating New Zealand in 1990. That performance showed true Scottish character, never say die and never give up. The team believed in themselves and very nearly pulled off an unlikely victory: I do not think anyone in the ground that day will forget the match in a hurry!