Dom Ward column: confessions of a justified rugby sinner

A new year offers an opportunity to recalibrate the nature and tone of relationships within Scottish rugby

The one thing we can all agree on is that we want the best for Scottish rugby. Image: © Craig Watson -
The one thing we can all agree on is that we want the best for Scottish rugby. Image: © Craig Watson -

EVERYONE involved in Scottish rugby wants the best for our sport even if we don’t always agree on what “best” might be. I was reminded of this on reading about AGM 3 and the call for unity from Mark Dodson and John Jeffrey.

Rugby is a highly competitive sport and for those that have played the game, competitiveness can be an ongoing feature of how we approach life. Covid enforced reflection of my own position on a range of rugby related issues leads me to conclude that if we are all to make Scottish rugby the best it can be, this competitiveness may be a disadvantage.

For I’ve concluded that we need to see beyond the “win/lose” end-game that results from the polarised positions that have been adopted on a range of issues by many. For together we can solve so much more than when we are divided. Yes, we all know that we need to build trust, but rather than make easy calls for “unity” from our respective ivory towers, how do we actually achieve this?

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It’s my view that we can only do this by all stakeholders working collaboratively, in an atmosphere of mutual respect. Let me explain why I’ve reached this position – in my day job, I’m a learning and development professional who regularly works with teams of all sorts to improve their performance. And without doubt, over the years I’ve learned that lack of trust is the most corrosive issue affecting team and individual performance.

So, if it’s my professional view that the key to addressing the trust gap is to first acknowledge the problem, I must equally recognise that my own personal contributions – fuelled by my own natural rugby “competitiveness” on a range of key issues – may not have been entirely helpful.

Therefore, in the spirit of sharing solutions rather than moaning about the issues, I offer here my thoughts about rebuilding trust.

Behaviour trumps rhetoric

It’s not just what you say but what you do that counts. The words we use are important, but words alone are not enough: it’s what we do, how we show up and how we engage with each other that are critical factors in building trust.

These features fall heaviest on leaders. They need to act as a role model for the way ahead, engaging positively with others. True engagement means open and honest dialogue which seeks to understand different perspectives.

Wouldn’t it be helpful if we were all able to talk to each other to better understand?

Trust is reciprocated

We all have examples of trust given or betrayed in our lives. It’s a highly emotive area and explains why giving or breaking trust creates such strong reactions in people.

Trust is reciprocated. When you are trusted, you act more trustworthily and then give more trust back, and so it builds in a virtuous cycle. Where does this process start? With organisational leaders, those in charge of and responsible for setting “the agenda”.

To build a sense of trust, you have to go first. To quote Warren Bennis: “Trust is the lubrication that makes it possible for organisations to work”. Scottish rugby urgently needs someone with an oilcan.

Admit vulnerability

This is the key element. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve spoken with senior leaders who project strong, decisive personas to discover subsequently individuals racked with doubt and insecurity. They are unable to admit their vulnerability to others and more importantly to themselves.

It’s too great a leap to expect stakeholders to show vulnerability to each other immediately. Start within your own group. Perhaps begin by admitting that none of us have all the answers and by starting to listen a bit to what others have to say: just maybe we’ll all see that “the other side” has a useful contribution to make.

Scottish rugby is a complex ecosystem which requires careful tending to maintain it. As with any ecosystem, negative effects in one part will spread to the rest. We behave as if we were separate entities, but the reality is we’re completely interdependent on each other.

It will be a long and arduous journey, doubtless with hurdles along the way. But with a fresh approach, I have no doubt we can emerge better and stronger.

My New Year resolution will be to approach things more humbly, listen a bit more and talk a little less, and seek to understand alternative viewpoints. What will yours be?

The Offside Line’s End of Year Awards for 2020




About Dom Ward 2 Articles
Dominic Ward is Secretary of Grangemouth Stags Rugby Football Club. His playing career started in school rugby before joining the junior section at Grangemouth, where he couldn't keep a place in the U18s and turned out for the 5ths. Dominic then progressed through the club sides at Grangemouth making his 1st XV debut in 1989. He was also actively involved in the management of the club joining the committee and fulfilling different roles before taking up the Secretary position. Dominic is a member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and has held learning and development roles across a wide range of business sectors.


  1. Thanks to everyone who has commented. And I mean everyone.

    My intention was to start a debate and it’s certainly done that.

    We shown that there are different perspectives in Scottish rugby. It’s also clear that the lack of trust has fallen much further than I thought.

    My piece isn’t a forgive and forget approach either. That would be foolish.

    What happens next? There are critical milestones and decisions coming quick and fast over the next few months. It looks increasingly like the scenario where fans are back into Murrayfield in sufficient numbers, is receding. That makes life much more difficult financially.

    The Governance review had hoped to be engaging with clubs on their initial ideas. Hopefully that can proceed probably virtually. If nothing else the comments here show we need radical change.

  2. Only getting to this now after a self-imposed social media ban for 2 weeks. Some of the comments here are nothing but trolling immaturity of the highest order. I’ve had more intelligent dinners.

    In relation to the article – I applaud your maturity of thinking here. However, I think that what’s needed isn’t available. The SRU board, as it stands, cannot and will not engage meaningfully with anyone that dissents from their views.

    This is not new behaviour since Dodson’s tenure. This is he same, stuffed shirt, old guard rugby attitude that they know best. Unfortunately, it has been proven that “they” don’t. I work in business strategy, and if we ran our group of companies like the board have run the SRU, then we would be in court or jail right now. To govern you need the right attitude, moral compass, to lead from the top by example, and create a culture of inclusivity that builds trust.

    Trust is not given because you hold a high office. It is earned through years of consistent behaviour. Mistrust is much more easily earned. You either bring people with you or drag them behind you. I know which is less exhausting.

  3. This is getting rather tedious “Neil”. Of course we still have no idea if you are a Neil, John or Toby.

    Looks like you are going for the full house by calling me unprofessional. Which is rather ironic as I’m the qualified learning and development guy and you are the one who bangs on about leaving it to the pros.

    • And here you go again, back on your high horse. It is completely within my right to just have my name as ‘Neil’ and i perfectly entitled to give you an opinion. Your not going go get any further with me on this so i suggest we just drop the conversation here, clearly you are unable to look at the other sides point of view and accept it. I’ll let you have the last word.

  4. Is it the year’s turning that prompts many of us to re-examine our navels, or is it the realisation – before it’s too late – that banging one’s forehead off a wall leads to just one thing: a bloodied / sore head?

    Like Marcus (and many others) I’ve “empathised” with many of Dom Ward’s past postings. But unlike Marcus, for what it’s worth, I support Dom’s suggestion for a change of emphasis, and I hardly think the man’s undergone a damascene conversion to the dark side by his committing to this article. Isn’t he simply suggesting that he’s fed up with a bloodied forehead and is seeking an alternative route forward?

    Given that Dom (and his club) had the “kahuna’s” to stand up and second the Hawks motion at the AGM just past, I really don’t think either that dismissive comments – a la “I won’t waste time giving your nonsense a proper critique….” are deserved or serve their author well. Dom Ward – though I’m no apologist for him – was prepared to raise his head above the parapet, whilst others hide behind quasi-anonymity and fire cheap shots. What’s the matter “Neil”, whoever you are? Someone take yer ba’ away at Christmas?

    George’s comments are (IMO) both pointed and a useful counter-balance to Dom’s. And I think he correctly identifies from when our present “problems” have arisen. I just wish I had half of George’s insight into our Dark Lord’s character / capabilities. Because like 99.9% of the Scottish “rugby nation”, I’ve never encountered the man beyond the PR, never mind held a conversation with him. But one thing I do recognise about Mr D is that with the track record he’s got, he’s nobody’s idiot. If he’s got to where he is, even he must be able to read the runes. And the last thing he needs at BTM before departing stage left in Aug 2023 is a prolonged “civil war’. So, perhaps (in order to create some sort of a legacy if nothing else) ….just perhaps there’s an opportunity for the clouds to part a bit in the coming months.

    Maybe George is right however and that “it’s gone beyond that” (whatever “that” might be). But has it? Have you tried George? I mean, really tried to bring about some meaningful change beyond posting on a website? Dom Ward evidently has, and isn’t all that he’s suggesting just an alternative course of action be tried before we descend yet further into whatever 7th Cycle of Cockerill that it is (I agree) we appear to be headed? Is it so wrong that there be a call for “moderation” in tone and tenor of debate? No one’s a quisling for suggesting such: au contraire IMO, and it took guts to write what Dom wrote whether one agrees with his central tenet or not.

    Perhaps however his call for (as James puts it) “respect and co-operation” will fall upon deaf ears. We shall see in due course and if it does, so be it: action will be taken accordingly. But decrying a man for trying to progress a debate that’s been headed down a dead-end for months advances no-one’s cause. And you’ve got to get to the table first before you can address – important though they undoubtedly are and mustn’t be left behind – the “business, financial & legal issues”, haven’t you? Or do we just continue to shout from the touchline without ever getting involved in the match?

    Thanks to the recently passed AGM motions, “the clubs” now have at long last a meaningful ability to call to account those who are charged with running our game. Why don’t we then, with purpose and as never before, use that ability through the fora to hold folks’ feet to the fire as may prove necessary? Surely to goodness, as Dom appears to be advocating, the old mantra “four legs good, two legs bad” has outlived its usefulness? Or are we just as entrenched as BTM have hitherto appeared to be?

    • Good evening, you raised several reasonable points in your comments ‘what would I do constructively’. Unfortunately the best I have to offer is opinion if for no other reason other than I am almost 1,000miles from Roseburn Street. That apart, unless an individual is part of the ‘structure’ of Rugby Football in Scotland, with some power or voting capability, other than opine what else is there to do, even if you are just around the corner.
      Correct I do not have personal knowledge of Dodson or others within the sanctuary of Murrayfield, however I do have, like most the ability to make Judgements from previous experience in the working world over the past 40 odd years. They have included amongst other aspects the selling of International Sports Events and World Championships to clients around the World, all conducted with a handful of staff and working to deadlines, not the extended staff at Murrayfield. I would have thought that offers reasonable expertise when I criticise the size of the Sales and Marketing regime and Trumps the experience of selling small adds for the Manchester Guardian. That said my previous experience is but a part of the requirement, I wouldn’t know where to start with the overall restitution of the governance of Scottish Rugby and the conduct of the financial aspects.

      I have a different view to Dom in particular regarding ‘trust’ more in line with the old saying fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.
      Then there is the question of Dodson’s ability.
      Well let’s get straight to what is on record for all to read and I have yet to discover he has any outstanding successes and I wouldn’t describe his previous employment in charge of the small adds sales for a local newspaper or his failed effort to launch a local Tv. Channel and throwing ‘huge amounts of money into a bottomless pit’ as a Track Record, good grief he even had questions asked by the local Member of Parliament about the amount of money he was spending, or squandering as the MP put it.
      Do you need to have dealings with some individuals to judge their ability or character: that depends, however in my experience looking at his previous employment and his present position I see little or no compatibility and therefor question who decided he was suitable for the position.
      As for your suggestion ‘he is no idiot’ for getting where he is, well perhaps you are correct, perhaps the foolish ones were those that assessed his ability and gave him the position. I wish I had a £ for every glib talking small time salesman that sold himself into a position he was unable to rise to.

      My last thought is well done to all that have opened up the discussion wishing for the betterment of Rugby Football in Scotland, but for me there has to be a clean sweep right across the board from the Grassroots to Murrayfield anything else is just moving the Deck-chairs on the Titanic.

  5. I disagree with Dom’s opinion but as least he backs it up and doesn’t just throw out insults like Neil.

    As for Neil’s “What you have just posted above highlights the uselessness of your ‘profession’ by all means, sit on your high horse while saying abstract things without offering a real solution looking down on us peasants” well the hypocrisy is breathtaking. But thanks for the laugh Neil!

  6. Interesting you choose to ignore all the other commenters who are giving you genuine critiques and questions but instead decide to go at poor old me.

    How about you be a man and reply to Marcus, James, Ron and George Hayley.

    • Is that really the best you can muster Neil?

      For someone who regularly disparages my contributions but feigns lack of interest in responding you seem curiously obsessed with commenting on my posts.

      I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with many of the comments on this piece. Thankfully they have provided explanations on why they disagree with me. The intention of the article was to stimulate debate and suggest there are alternatives to throwing stones at each other which I admitted was an approach I had taken. In that regard we are making progress.

      It won’t be easy but we do need to understand others perspectives. As Henry Ford said “If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.”

      Now back to you Neil. I called you out specifically because you denigrate the article with one sentence. I asked that you expand your commentary so we get your POV. All you do is further criticise but still no counter argument on how you would do things differently.

      Nice little strap line though. If only you could show up professionally, rather than acting like a 12 year old, we might make some progress

      • What you have just posted above highlights the uselessness of your ‘profession’ by all means, sit on your high horse while saying abstract things without offering a real solution looking down on us peasants.

        Again i challenge you to be a man an actually answer the hard questions and critiques put forward by the other posters. The votes says it all.

        Let the pros do their jobs.

    • Maybe he’s listening to their point of view – because they’ve actually explained it rather than just throwing insults.

  7. Well, Dom, a great try but it would appear that your soft skills are not the way forward after all!
    I am not a leader or accomplished with my written English but I can see both the trees and the wood.
    I would agree that there is some credence in your views but the simple problem is that consenses needs 2 sides that are prepared to move. Unfortunately, as has been stated the leadership at Murrayfield have failed to do that on so many occasions that I personally have no trust in them. Why should I feel any different in 2021?
    Dodson’s pride has been hurt but he will not admit it! His way is to retaliate by ridding himself of any opposition. The Russell case is a perfect example. Plus increasing his defences and gathering his friends/yes people around him to fight his battles. Did he appear at the Q & A session at AGM 3? The simple answer is NO!
    I see only 2 options for a way forward. A) Dodson has a personality change. Highly unlikely! OR B)Dodson is removed from his post.
    A positive example must come from the top. As stated previously there have been no signs that are likely to happen so let’s not waste time and effort repeating what has become the norm.
    Thank you for an attempt at a solution. However, I would be happier reading your previous views which I have found to be more to the point. You’re prepared to change but I believe the grassroots can’t see that happening at Murrayfield.
    Have a good new year! Forget the new resolution. Your other contributions make better reading and more likely to attrack support!

  8. I’m sorry to say that having read the article twice unfortunately I am not convinced that Dom Ward’s hopes will be met in 2021. It seems to me rather like the well meaning probation officer convinced that the ‘Leopard can change his Spots’ he opens himself up to ‘I told you so’ when the existing problems role on. Sorry Dom no offence.
    Admit vulnerability – It would be a cold day in Hell, trust me.
    From observation and comments from individuals that have a closer knowledge and experience of Dodson I can only surmise that it’s ‘his way or the Highway’ hence the call for unity is like most of his utterances, in my opinion, ‘just words’ and words are cheap.
    Behaviour trumps rhetoric – Actions speak louder than words.
    Have there been any signs of contrition on Dodson’s part, any suggestion that he is flexible, not that I have observed.
    As for Trust is reciprocated – You have been a lucky bloke.

    From a distance it seems to me that the transition from the amateur game to the professional never worked properly, it would appear that there was always a problem. Did the Border Reivers fail because of animosity in the Borders that the professional game was taking players [and revenue] away from the likes of Melrose or Hawick, well if that was the case their opposition didn’t make any difference it just meant that players went to Glasgow or Edinburgh initially and now as we can observe much further afield chasing the big money in England and France.
    I agree that everybody needs to sing from the same Hymn Sheet, I just don’t see the mindset in Murrayfield from Dodson and those that he has garnered around him have any thoughts of compromise, anymore than they appear to have any idea as to how to run the professional game with stepping stones from the Grassroots amateur game through the system to the International game.
    Are they only intent on playing the short game with 3/5 year residency players supplementing the Pro game: where is the long system [that works] that develops our own players, why does it appear that Ireland with much the same background [and starting from the same position] seem to be able to cope much better when their clubs are denuded by International duties. To quote the song, there are more questions than answers, answers being as rare as Hen’s teeth.
    Surely there has to be an intelligent way of wiping the slate clear, admitting that mistakes were made in the past and that have continued to the present governance of the game to its detriment.
    The approach needs to change, Murrayfield needs to change and by that I mean a change of leadership, not that there has been much otherwise we wouldn’t be in this mess, borrowing money, loosing players, loosing trust, and at times loosing on the Pro14 field in particular, although we have been in a better playing position recently with the International XV.
    I can understand the desire to respect a call for unity but I think the problem has gone beyond that, I can’t see that there will be unity because there is little or no trust in Murrayfield, little or no evidence of acceptance that they are wrong anyway you look at it. In truth a antonym that fits Roseburn Street is that they are the Brussels/Strasbourg to the Brexiteers.
    I personally find it difficult to believe the void can be bridged, can anyone out there honestly see any contrition from Dodson?
    In these columns recently the cry of leave it to the professionals has been voiced: really! The so called professionals have directed Scottish Rugby into a position whereby it would appear even auditors have reservations regarding the governance in the SRU.
    How best do we get out of this mess, well for a start lets start looking for proven ability and not unwanted middle management on directors salaries and bonus schemes.
    It needs new people to be identified with the common aim to develop Scottish Rugby and Scottish players, it requires realistic staffing levels, once those individuals are identified then implement the changes of personnel and direction within Murrayfield, then we might be getting somewhere.

    • Incisive commentary Neil.

      Ad hominem is so much easier than dealing with the issues I raise.

      Here’s my ask of you – stop hiding and share your full name. Second, the purpose of the article was to get different perspectives. A literal “kick in the shins” doesn’t really do that, so please share your POV on how we get the best for Scottish Rugby

      • Dom – i wont waste time giving your nonsense a proper critique, if you can’t handle critisism you probably should not be posting articles pal.

        Let the pros do their jobs.

      • Thought you might say something like that Neil.

        Which underlines the attention we should pay to your comments.

  9. Respect and co-operation is all fine and well but what do you do if one side offers no respect and refuses to co-operate?

  10. Hhmm… All very nice and conciliatory (for a happy joined-up future time), but fails to get into the “here and now” nub of the problem.

    All as expected from a soft-skills-oriented HR person, but unfortunately misses / avoids the key (business, financial & legal) issues. The “hard” truth….


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