SRU chairman John Jeffrey believes that the country’s leading teams lack the kind of hard-edged, winning mentality required to achieve consistent success – but has promised that they will find it.
Speaking at the governing body’s annual general meeting and at a subsequent media conference at the weekend, Jeffrey admitted that, apart from the odd exceptional result, last season had been a disappointment for those leading teams. Scotland Men won just two games in the Six Nations, while Scotland Women and Scotland Under-20s lost all five matches in their Championships. And, while Edinburgh showed promise in their first season under new head coach Mike Blair, both they and Glasgow failed to get beyond the quarter-finals in either European competition or in the United Rugby Championship, with Warriors coach Danny Wilson having been sacked at the end of the season as a result of his team’s poor performances.
“As my headmaster used to say in my end-of-term school report, ‘Could do better’,” Jeffrey said. “My father scored out the ‘could’ and said ‘must do better’. What I will say today is we WILL do better.
“For the most part our high-performance teams have flattered to deceive. We had some fantastic individual results, but a lack of consistency is frustrating for all our supporters. We need to develop a ruthless streak that is evident in all successful sporting environments.
“We have to be better at every level. We’ve invested an awful lot of money in all our high-performance teams and we need to get a return on that. We need to be stronger.
“We need to develop a winning edge – all our teams need to develop a winning edge, and when we get into positions in games where we could be winning them, we should be winning them. We’ve got to see them out. We’ve got to deliver a harder-edged mentality to all our performances at international and high-performance level.”
Having remained involved in rugby as an administrator, Jeffrey is well aware that it has changed almost beyond recognition since he was a player, and knows there is no simple panacea for the Scottish game’s problems. But he suggested that one problem for the current generation of players was the lack of experience of real life in other contexts outside of rugby.
“I’ve got to be careful in this, because I don’t want to sound like one of the old fogeys – it’s 30, 40 years ago since I played,” the 1990 Grand Slam winner continued. “What I would say is that the players nowadays have come up through a different environment. We were in amateur days when you had your day job, you learned all your skills in your day job, you learned leadership.
“What I would say to these players is: Where do they develop their leadership skills, their hard skills? Because they’re coming up, and let’s not kid ourselves, they’re well catered for. They’re given sports conditioning, training, everything, all the way through. So where do they get that hard edge to learn?
“And also with coaches, the water-carriers come on with instructions. So where I would come from is . . . It’s always been a big bugbear in the last few years – how do we develop leaders? How do we make leaders on the pitch so that they can make decisions which are immediately happening on the pitch?
“Because I spoke to a couple of coaches about it and they said to me, actually, the bizarre thing is, by the time they get the message down to the water-carrier they’re on to the next stage of play anyway. So they’re probably given them advice about what they should have done two moves ago, not that move.
“I think some of these young boys coming through – a lot of them look to have that edge that you’re talking about. And – I hope I’m wrong in this – I think maybe our coaching, our academies, develop that out of them, coach that out of them.”
Last week England head coach Eddie Jones blamed private schools for producing players who lacked “resolve” and experience of leadership – opinions for which he was rebuked by his employers, the Rugby Football Union. Asked if he agreed with Jones, Jeffrey insisted he just wanted as many young people as possible playing rugby – and didn’t care what kind of school they went to.
“We’ve got very small numbers playing our game, and I don’t care whether they’re at private school, grammar school or whatever,” he added. “We’ve got to look after every single one of them, develop them – and if the private schools are coaching them every day and doing that, then that’s great. They’re part of our academies, so I’ve no problem with any of that.
“But the more kids we have playing, the better. I don’t care which structure it is.”