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‘Detailed document’ on Agenda 3 leaves too many questions unanswered

Jack Steele of Dumfries Saints bursts through two Kelso players in this year's National League Cup Final

Jack Steele of Dumfries Saints bursts through two Kelso players in this year's National League Cup Final ***Image: ©Fotosport/David Gibson***

THE long awaited “detailed document” on Agenda 3 was finally issued on Wednesday evening, and those anticipating that it would achieve the stated objective of allowing stakeholder to “fully understand” what the SRU are trying to achieve with their revolution of the club game have surely been left feeling short changed.

Essentially it is a hyped-up version of the working paper Keith Russell left behind when he was summarily dismissed by Mark Dodson in May last year – expanded only to incorporate Super 6 and the operational changes being made by Russell’s successor, Sheila Begbie, within the Domestic Rugby department.

It is a strange hybrid between a sales pitch and consultation brief – but certainly not the final word on what Scottish club rugby is going to look like from season 2018-19 onwards. It is opaque and short on detail. There is no hard strategy.

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It is hard to know whether to laugh or cry at the tacit acknowledgement that three key issues – player payments, interface between Super 6 and other clubs, and season structure –  have now become too hot for Murrayfield to handle and so must be addressed through consultation with the clubs. This comes a full ten months after the whole thing was presented to the clubs as a fait accompli at last summer’s AGM, and two years after the Agenda 3 concept was first dreamed up by SRU Chief Executive Dodson and Chief Operating Officer Dominic McKay in a hotel room in Japan during Scotland’s 2016 summer tour.

There is nothing in the document to dispel concerns that Dodson has run a horse and cart through the Dunlop Report in pursuit of his Agenda 3 / Super 6 vision, without proper oversight from the Board and, more worryingly, from the Council.

‘Democratic centralism’ is what Lenin and Stalin used to call it when the elected representatives were controlled by a tight cabal of highly paid unelected officials.

We are told that the key objectives of Agenda 3 is to “raise playing standards and enhance the player and coaching pathway”, and also that it is being done because “the Scottish Rugby Council charged the Board and Executive with finding a solution”. Be this as it may (and it would be interesting to know whether this instruction was minuted) the role of the Council according to Dunlop is simply to “review and, where necessary, advise the Scottish Rugby Board on matters of policy and strategy with particular regard to Rugby”.  They simply do not have the statutory authority to instruct fundamental change to the game’s key structures. Agenda 3 has to go through an AGM or an SGM.

SRU funding is a right not a privilege

The ongoing funding is, of course, welcome but there needs to be an understanding on the part of the current executive (and this perhaps runs to the heart of Dodson’s problem with the clubs) that the Union’s contribution to clubs is a prerogative rather than an indulgence. The clubs still own the Union and these disbursements represent the return on an investment which goes back almost 150 years.

Interestingly, despite the RFU being in the midst of a significant financial squeeze which could lead to as many as 100 staff at Twickenham being laid off, the English governing body is sticking to its commitment that for every 60 pence spent on the elite game, 40 pence will be invested in community rugby.

Full details of the funding package available to clubs, including the Minimum Operating Statements (MOS) and the Club Sustainability Awards (CSA) for season 2018-19, need to be released before August’s AGM.

At least Dodson has stepped back from his bullish threat at last year’s AGM to have HMRC police player payments and is now propounding a more consultative and collaborative approach. How consultative and collaborative that approach proves to be when the current whirlwind dies down remains to be seen. In a mixed economy, market forces will generally prevail – though the Irish scheme to, at least partially, control player payment by restricting player movement might have some traction.

Super 6 remains a mystery

The Edinburgh Question

Regional task forces are, however, being set up in the Borders, Caledonia and Glasgow City to alleviate distress amongst clubs adversely affected by Super 6 and help them to establish whether they can be amongst the next intake for the new league – which won’t come as much comfort as Edinburgh Accies and Currie Chieftains, who both apparently put in ‘strong’ and ‘smart’ bids to no avail, and who are now stranded in a catchment area already over-saturated with Super 6 clubs.

“Those clubs driving up playing standards, increasing player numbers and living within their means will receive the most support from Scottish rugby,” the ‘detailed document’ tells us. That must have a hollow ring around Malleny Park – and must fuel scepticism throughout Scottish rugby.

Scotland tour ends on a glorious high with six-try thrashing of Pumas

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