SCOTTISH RUGBY chief executive Mark Dodson admits there is “no excuses” for Scotland’s World Cup pool stage exit, but the review of Scotland’s performance in France will be internal as was the case after the team’s early departure from the 2019 tournament.
“As a World Cup it was excellent and France did a great job of hosting it. From our point of view it was disappointing. We played well in the two games against Tonga and Romania but the two games against South Africa and Ireland were disappointing,” said Dodson at this [Saturday] morning’s AGM in the President’s Suite at Murrayfield. “I don’t think we gave our best but they were incredibly difficult teams at one and two in the world. It was a tough group. No excuses but in reality we would have liked to have done better, got a bit closer.
“I talk to Gregor regularly,” he added. “We have had a conversation about the World Cup. We talked long and hard and there is a belief that we are close but not as close as we want to be to the top four sides in the world. We are at fifth but there is a gap to the top four and we are working really hard towards the Six Nations to correct what we feel we could have done better in in the World Cup. We are lucky. We are not like some of the southern hemisphere nations that have to wait till July before they play. We can play the first week in February.
“The gap is there. The issue is how do we bridge that gap. If we are playing at our best we can trouble any side in the world, I thought we played well but not well enough. The question is how do we turn some from some of our previous performances when we can knock off any side in the world to a consistency of performance. That is where the key is.
Asked about Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend‘s future: “He has just signed a new contract till 2026.
“We do a formal review after every tournament. When we come back from Argentina, when we come back from here, we keep it in house and look at the things that went well and the things that went bad. And the national team does its own review for its own purposes with the squad. Gregor is coming to the end of his and we have had all our conversations all concluded.”
Dodson declined to identify the individuals involved in the review process. There is a group of us,” he said. “That is something I would like to keep with us and that is something we do as a group.
“Whether it is any other coach Gregor, Vern [Cotter], Andy Robinson, Scott Johnson they don’t get to mark their homework.”
A major concern is an apparent lack of fresh talent coming through the Scottish system. A review of the performance pathway is ongoing with the fact that the Scotland Under-20s team has managed just one win from the last three age-grade Six Nations campaigns and remain stranded in the second-tier World Rugby Trophy after slumping to defeat against Uruguay in the pool stage of last summer’s tournament highlighting that these is
“It is a justifiable to say we have under performed at that level,” he conceded. “The last four or five years we have not done justice to ourselves. We have just undertaken the biggest review of our pathways from under-16s all the way to our pro teams and we have included in that review the CRB (Club Rugby Board) and have representatives of the Premiership, National One, Super6 [Super Series], high performance, national team and external consultants as well to look at what is the right methodology for Scotland and how do we drive people through. There is a variety of reasons why we are not as strong as other countries at under-20 level.”
“The level of opportunities under-20s get when you have a two pro team environment compared with 14 in France and ten in England. We need to look at the quality of games played between 18 and 23 in Scotland and some of the strength and conditioning has to be done earlier. The guys we have been facing from Italy, Georgia and the other nations are physically bigger than we are. We have to address how we drive these things through. All these things are part of the work that is ongoing.”
A cross-border competition with Italian rugby clubs is one idea which has been mooted in the search to find better playing opportunities at this level.
“We are still on that,” said Dodson. “We are still describing that. We are working with Marzio Inocenti, the Italian President, about how we do that. They’ve had changes in their own system as well which has delayed this.
“Effectively, what we are trying to look at is Super6, or whatever happens after 2024 whether it is Super6 or other things, we are trying to work with them and the Peroni Top 8 to work on how we have a cross-border competition that gives us access to that different level of competition.
“Super6 is part of the review process. We may or may not continue. That will be one of those issues which is being addressed.
“I don’t want to pre-empt what will be in the review but I think it [Super6/Super Series] has been a qualified success. Some of the things have worked really well and some of the things have not worked as well as expected. We also have to think for two years it did not exist due to Covid and it had a difficult birth in terms of what we were trying to do, it wasn’t universally popular but there is a difference in the quality of play, time in play, the standard of rugby between the Super6 and what was the Premiership is clear. The question is whether Super6 is close enough to the new pro game, that is where the questions will probably be asked but, again, I don’t want to pre-empt what will come out of the review.
“It [the performance review] falls into our wider strategy we have talked about today, and when we are ready to talk to you about it we will do. We have included so many people in the mix it is natural we speak to them at the end of it. I would say [it will be out] at end of this [calendar] year, beginning of next year.”