John Jeffrey: our teams must – and WILL – do better

SRU chairman admits our leading sides lack the hard-edged mentality needed for consistent success

John Jeffrey is optimistic about Scotland's prospects in the 2022 Six Nations. Image: Craig Watson
John Jeffrey has promised there will be improvements in the country's top teams. Image: Craig Watson.

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.”  

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About Stuart Bathgate 1156 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.

22 Comments

  1. Absolutely, as I said above his honesty was refreshing and it has to be said that scottish rugby needs to do much better in so many ways, especially on the park where we get beaten far too often.

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  2. Jeffrey says he doesn’t want to sound like an old fogey, then proceeds to demonstrate that is exactly what he comes over as

    In the “old days” people, had other jobs? Actually they had jobs and were supposed to be amateur. Be that as it may the past is in the past. This is now. What other top nation has its players working part time, what other nations try to develop full time players from early on? Does he know how those in academies are treated and what is expected? Here or elsewhere? Does he understand that much of the criticism is our young players aren’t ready for top rugby while other Unions kids are?
    He is living in the past.

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  3. Liked what JJ had to say, some refreshing honesty from him. Seems to me he isn’t blind to the pressing issues as others in his position often fail to. Scottish rugby would be in a worse state if it wasn’t for the likes of him, Mark Dodson and Gregor townsend

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    • Eddie Jones is said to be “ under pressure “ As things stand England are the second best team in the world because they were the losing finalists in the 2019 World Cup.
      New Zealand finished third in the same tournament and they are in some disarray at the moment.
      Both countries will and are taking definite action to remedy the situation.
      Scotlands performance in the last World Cup was abysmal and,apart from beating England,have gone downhill since then and the SRU seem unable to make the necessary hard decisions to improve the performances.

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      • Pretty sure a narrow loss to both Wales and Ireland by the margin of a few points was the only thing stopping us from having a Grand Slam in 2021.

        8 British and Irish Lions + coaching staff.
        Ranked 6th in the world.

        Have we been in a better position in the last 20 years? (Admittedly this years results have been a drop in standards)

        The style of our play has gotten more boring i’ll certainly say that

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  4. “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.”

    If that’s what they’re being used for, the coaches need to give their heads a shake. If they identify a general tacitcal change, fine, offer that, but trying to micromanage a game one step behind what’s happening live is ineptitude.

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    • Exactly. Just look at Harlequins in England. They had a head coach who tried to micro-manage the coaches and the team. The result was dejected players playing tediously boring rugby leading to defeat after defeat. The club responded by showing the coach the door and not even bothering to replace him. Instead they backed the remaining coaches who gave the players licence to go out and play what was in front of them free from criticism when it went wrong. The result? They won the Premiership.

      Rugby should be played with intelligence, thought and flair and not by players who can’t or aren’t allowed to think for themselves.

  5. It seems strange indeed to hear this rhetoric coming from inside Fortress SRU albeit a bit late but pertinent non the less.
    It is also strange because if you didn’t ‘do the business’ in the old days all you lost was potentially being carded, you didn’t loose your job, you still had your work BUT you had to walk down the High Street on Monday and observe the lack of eye contact when you had dropped the ball over the line and missed the winning try.
    Of course there is a difference once the game went open and money and agents came into the mix, the game lost something. It was imperceptible at first but gradually the Cocoon that the modern professional player is in contributed to that, rarely today would they be walking down the High Street and have one of the locals shout ‘you were Mince on Saturday’, for a start off they would probably be in a Sponsorship car.
    I think it was Cliff Morgan who commented that there was nothing worse than being part of a loosing Welsh side when you had to walk down the High Street on the Monday.
    Finally, the thoughts of ‘Chairman Jeffrey’ being as they are a significant divergence from the ‘company line’ is this a sign of a changing of the guard coming up.

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    • George, the man’s utterances are becoming tedious and bland. There is little intellectual rigour in anything he says….. He appears out of his depth on most levels, and should go – without more ado.

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  6. “We’ve invested an awful lot of money in all our high-performance teams”

    Whilst mentioning supporters being frustrated, he doesn’t say anything about the owners of the Union – Clubs have sat and watched countless millions being invested in pro rugby instead of going into grassroots, but for what return?

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  7. “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.”

    I couldn’t agree more, it’s really frustrating to watch young players being selected for the academies because they have something special only to have that what makes them special coached out of them. I also agree that we need to coach a winning mentality. For those that want to play rugby for fun great, however we also need to cater for those that want to play rugby because they enjoy the competitiveness and they want to win.

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    • JJ fails to mention the people who put together the system cand infrastructure that is failing our young players….it’s a cop out really when people in positions of power are blaming the youngsters who aren’t the ones putting the systems into place. The people who have controlled this for several years seem immune from accountability but perfectly happy to hoover up huge salaries and bonuses whilst Scottish rugby falls further and further behind.

  8. I wonder what the opposition will say about that?

    On the leadership question perhaps all the support and coaching instructions are part of the problem? This seemed most acute with Glasgow last season. An inability to problem solve in the moment.

    One other aspect may be hot housing kids too early where all they do is rugby. Get range and variety in what they do from an early stage. Play sports for fun and then begin specialisation when they are 14/15. The 10k hours to mastery “rule” is nonsense.

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    • Spot on Dom and Alanj .

      When Scotland in 2019 v England turned round
      a 31 points deficit (24 points deficit at half time ) to draws 38 – 38 ,It was because the players decided for themselves
      to contest what was in front of them and not to
      play to a coach’s fixed game plan .
      What’s more we could get that harder edge side
      To our game that JJ wants by hiring Scott Robertson
      From NZ now that the ABs have decided on Ian
      Foster .
      Vern Cotter brought a harder edge to our game
      and so would Robertson who has a track record
      Second to none with the Crusaders
      We need a change of tack NOW

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  9. To be better look at the Scottish boys overseas whom are working and playing at high levels such as Shute shield in Australia. There is 2 props there destroying scrums George Thornton and Andrew Young both of which would add Scottish Qualified strength to edinburgh or glasgow.
    There’s boys in Fed 1 in France all of whom would be a great addition to the two pro teams adding for lack of better terminology mongrel and heart

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    • Yeah let’s block even more kids inside Scottish rugby from development programmes. Thats definitely where the problem lies ….maybe we should just ban them and only recruit from abroad. Short term thinking has been our problem for thirty us years.

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    • Thornton was on Glasgow’s books for a season. Before that Wasps. Couldn’t convince either to retain him.
      Glad to see him doing well in Aus, but the Shute Shield is hardly the highest level.
      Personally I thought he was a real prospect from U20s but something wasn’t working – or he would still be here
      Maybe at 25 he has reached a peak, so I wouldn’t rule out a return

  10. If his headmaster were providing a report card on JJ today, his view would not have changed.

    A great player without doubt, but as a chairperson and Scottish rugby representative on various international bodies – he absolutely could do better. Or perhaps he simply isn’t the best person for the job?

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    • Well said, Scot Abroad!

      What the Kersknowe farmer fails to address (or recognise?) is that other not-dissimilar rugby nations have been and are making a much better fist of it in dealing with the issues and new challenges he tells us are confronting rugby in Scotland.

      Could it be that Mr Jeffrey is, quite simply, the wrong man in the wrong job(s)?

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    • Are you all smoking crack?

      These forums are full of folk complaining that Scottish rugby is just not fulfilling its potential and the SRU is part of that problem.

      John Jeffrey stands up publicly to call it all out and he gets crucified by all of you?

      Come on. He’s right in what he says and it’s commendable he’s said it. How about encouraging similar honesty from those in authority rather than finding a new thing to complain about.

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      • Actually, Will – more like WTF have you been smoking!!!!

        You only have to read the piece to see the banality of the chairman’s cringe-worthy threadbare statement – go on, check it out!

        They might have attracted greater credibility if the gallivanting former player turned multiple-conflicted administrator had not personally been right there at the trough, in the middle of everything that has not gone right on the rugby front.

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