Junior World Trophy: Jim Mallinder delivers a vote of confidence in Kenny Murray

"We are making these changes to the structure, not changes to the coaches."

Jim Mallinder says that getting Scotland's best young players meaningful game time must be a priority. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Jim Mallinder says that getting Scotland's best young players meaningful game time must be a priority. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

JIM MALLINDER – Scottish Rugby’s performance director – has assured national under-20s head coach Kenny Murray that his job is safe despite this afternoon’s deeply damaging defeat to Uruguay, and he insisted that he remains confident that his overhaul of Murrayfield’s performance department 18 months ago was the first step of a journey in the right direction, despite a devastating sequence of results for the age-grade side.

The under-20s have managed just three victories from 22 matches stretching back to the start of 2020, with two of those wins being over minnows Zimbabwe and USA during the current Junior World Trophy campaign. Today’s loss means that they won’t win promotion back to the top tier Junior World Championship next year, which is a major setback given the value that competition has provided in terms of player development opportunities over the years.  Earlier this year, Scotland lost 82-7 to Ireland, which is a harrowing indicator of the gulf in class which has been allowed to develop.

“Kenny is doing a good job” insisted Mallinder. “He’s getting that team better. He’s put in some great preparation. The squad are improving but if you look at the game-time of these youngsters, they’ve not played enough.

“I’ve been through it this week with our statistician and only about five or six are playing nearly every week. How can we have one of our starting players who has only played 80 minutes of rugby in the last three or four months? No wonder we’re getting 12 injuries, we’re not playing the quality and quantity of rugby, not exposing them to the right levels.”


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“I’m confident in Kenny and the coaching team,” he added. “We need to support him and make these changes. I’m so frustrated. I want us to improve, we’re not going to do it overnight but we can improve.”

Mallinder was echoing the point Murray had made earlier in the day about Scotland under-20s players not getting enough game-time exposure at an appropriate level, which is hard to fathom given that they work for Scottish Rugby, who own both the nation’s pro teams and are major investors in the six Super Series sides which were awarded licenses back in May 2018 with the specific remit of providing a stepping-stone for the nation’s best up-and-coming players as they move from schools and club rugby towards the professional game.

“There are probably half a dozen [Scotland Under-20s squad members] who are playing regular Super6 [because] those coaches want to improve players but they also want to win,” said Mallinder. “This is why we are taking the bull by the horns and putting our under-20 team in the competition. That is something which is going to happen as soon as we get back from this tournament, and we are contracting our under-20s so they all have full-time contracts at Edinburgh and Glasgow which is completely new.”

This under-20s team in Super Series is called the ‘FOSROC Future XV’ and will play its first game on Friday evening against Southern Knights at the Greenyards, although the current Scotland Under-20s squad won’t be involved because they will still be in Kenya preparing for their Junior World Trophy 3rd/4th place play-off against Samoa on Sunday.

An obvious question is: if under-20s players can’t demand selection into existing Super Series teams on merit, what chance are they going to have when thrown in together as one team against these same older and more experienced sides which they have not previously made the cut for?

“If they can’t compete at Super6 level, how do we expect them to compete against France or Ireland who are playing competitively already?” retorted Mallinder, which sounds more like blind hope thank confidence that this latest scheme will have the desired effect.

“We come up against teams who are already a couple of years in advance of us. Look at the number of those French players who are playing in their top division, it’s frightening. The Irish and French lads are getting opportunities so when they come to play for the 20s, they are light years ahead of us,” he added.

The proof will, of course, be in the pudding. In the meantime, questions are also being asked about the pro teams’ recruitment and selection policies, with three of the most impressive Scotland Under-20s back-rowers of recent seasons – Rhys Tait, Archie Smeaton and Harri Morris (who is converting to hooker) – all heading south to play in the English Championship with Doncaster Knights next season, while Rudi Brown is off to France. At the same time, Glasgow Warriors have added depth to their squad in that position with the signing of veteran South African journeyman Henco Venter.

“We want success at Edinburgh and Glasgow, we want to be supportive of those pro teams because we want them to do well, but we’ve also got to encourage our youngsters,” said Mallinder. “Another area we are going to be focusing on is the transition player, this area between 20 and 23. We’re going to spend more resource on looking after them, come up with a season plan for these players. At the moment, they don’t get enough game time. We need to get those players regular game time, in the Super Series but also playing as a transition group.

“What we don’t do here is point fingers,” Mallinder added. “We look at what’s happening and we understand that this has been a problem, with our under-20s, under-18s and our pathway, for a number of years. There is certainly no easy overnight fix, but we’ve already set some plans in place to hopefully improve this situation so we can provide more players to the professional teams and ultimately the national team. We’re going to have to work at this plan and really start improving.

“It’s going to take time. With the physicality, we’re not there [and] not just when we compete against Six Nations teams but [also against] some of these other emerging countries such as Uruguay and Georgia.

“It’s not these players’ fault. We had a young fly-half [Andy McLean] against Uruguay who has been playing at full-back for his Premiership club. It’s a really difficult ask. When our top player, Richie Simpson, is unavailable, we haven’t got the strength in depth and quality of player to be regularly competing against other international teams.

“I’m not going to get away from this being a big disappointment. We need to improve. We’ve seen that over the last couple of years – we’ve not been good enough. We’ve got to start afresh; we can’t keep doing the same things or we will just get worse.

“I feel so sorry for Kenny because he’s such a good coach. We’ve had about 12 of our best players unavailable to play in this tournament because of injuries. We’re not using that as an excuse because we know where we are at. We are short of quality players – we need to give them better game time and improve their physicality.

“We are in a low position, really disappointed. I’ve just been in that dinner hall and there was silence from those lads. They didn’t play particularly well, some of our decision-making was really, really bad and we can get a lot better. That’s a poor performance. We understand where we are at, and that’s why we are making these changes to the structure, not changes to the coaches.”


Junior World Trophy: Scotland scunnered by Uruguay

About David Barnes 3816 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.

36 Comments

  1. “Kenny is doing a good job” insisted Mallinder. “He’s getting that team better. He’s put in some great preparation. The squad are improving but if you look at the game-time of these youngsters, they’ve not played enough.”

    Mallinder says this in support of a coach (Kenny Murray) who has delivered the worst results in living memory!

  2. Basic problem is our good young players do not play competitive rugby every week in company on the field of experienced players. Forget academies…
    Let all players play amateur rugby for their native clubs… Marr have the template… All players stayed at Troon & brought club up 7 leagues in 10 years… Marr’s big problem is finding fixtures for their fourth XV! 💥

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  3. Mallinder’s comment is outrageous – it only has one purpose. By feigning support for Murray it makes the audience think that’s where the problem lies – simple deflection/distraction. He knows that he’s at risk as so he should be…

    • Mallinder doesn’t even live in Scotland – just taking money out of our game. Why are we getting all these guys from and English system that is embarrassing in terms of results for all its riches.
      Best bet is to look towards Irish system for me and let young players play for clubs as opposed to be training ground fodder for the pro teams.

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      • 100% agree on the Irish system as a template for us, number 1 ranked team in the world, and a similar sized country.

        But I’ve no issue with someone living in England and commuting depending on their contract PT(?)or if some of their day to day tasks involve working from home etc. All that matters is how well he’s doing the job! On that point, I’m not close enough to the internal workings of the SRU to be able to answer that, but to be clear something is going badly wrong at the SRU as a whole for our youth development.

  4. And to make it clear … the kids striving for Scotland Under-20 or Six Series are giving their all. Disappointed by comments towards them. We all have our views regarding individual players. Don’t personalise your SRU/coaches with the boys giving their best – and more.

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    • I don’t think there is any validity in that comment every comment I have seen is criticising the system, such as it is.

    • Absolutely noone is having a go at the current or even the previous players….it’s the structure coaches development and management that everyone is unhappy about….and deflecting from that is unfair….if you can find a quote having a go a players find it and present it.

    • Wouldn’t doubt for a second that every boy gives their all when they’re on the pitch. It’s also a huge commitment just to stay part of the Academy set-up, so that’s admirable. I do have doubts over some of players being part of the set-up in the first place, but that’s down to the selectors/coaches, not the boys themselves.

  5. Hang on, before I even read any further “Kenny is doing a good job” insisted Mallinder “He’s getting that team better. He’s put in some great preparation. The squad are improving but if you look at the game-time of these youngsters, they’ve not played enough”.
    In order of the 4 comments.
    1. I’ll pass on that judgement although on the face of it I don’t see the justification for it.
    2. How are they better especially when having comprehensibly put Zimbabwe away let them score 30 odd points having be 50 nil at one stage.
    3. In light of the answer above, did they get blasé about the 50 point lead and sit back on it OR were they not fit enough, either way it doesn’t look like ‘great preparation’ firstly from a ‘mind set’ point of view or secondly a fitness one despite the supposed climatic advantage to the opposition.
    4. A couple of wins the first when they shipped some points and the other when they were accused of a ‘Tardy’ start doesn’t seem appropriate and as for ‘game time’ who’s fault is that, surely it can’t be failures in the Super Six or the detachment from the Grassroots game.
    Yes, here it comes, when Dodson goes with his pension and no doubt a bonus for having based his remunerations on the International side we will see that he has done Zilch for the game in Scotland.
    The process of shipping in players for a short term Elastoplast seems to now be the Standard Operating Procedure and the odd player that makes it through the Scottish system [sic] will just be a bonus.
    This is just not good enough and anybody that thinks otherwise is either myopic or wearing Rose[burn] tinted spectacles.

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  6. Mallinder is premature, and wrong, in his endorsement of Murray’s work as coach, given that there is one match left to play, and one would expect after any international tournament for there to be an in-depth review of the preparations and tournament play, before coming to a reasoned assessment. Is it the case that this failure, to achieve the stated objective of promotion back to the main U20 WC competition has already been prejudged as a positive outcome?
    Over the years critics have repeatedly told ‘Let the Pros do their jobs’. There appear to be no mechanisms in place within the SRU to address those behind serial failure, other than by sideways moves into non-jobs. The whole Super 6 (or is it now 7) morass is a case in question. Others more familiar with youth rugby than I have highlighted the flaws that mean at age group level Scotland is falling further and further behind, meaning going forward the national team will become more dependant on the worldwide recruitment of mercenaries, to the detriment of the sport within Scotland.
    If Murray is as good a coach as some may claim, then the fault must lie in the system that produces under-prepared age-group players without the necessary skills and experience, and those responsible for designing and implementing the system.

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  7. Interesting that Mallinder said Richie Simpson is out top young player. I was expecting him to be announced on a pro-deal or at least a partnership deal but still no news on what his status is.

  8. Jim doth protest to much….

    If you won’t apportion blame let me

    What has been achieved under Mr Mallinder watch? A few very good 6N wins and precious little else.

    Super 6 is an invention of Murrayfield. It was touted by the then development supremo Sean Lineen was saying the Academy guys would get game time.

    Almost like when you partner with others you can’t just demand they do what you want. Who knew? Well just about everyone except the geniuses at Murrayfield.

    JM has a point. It’s not just down to Kenny Murray. It’s a long term problem that hasn’t been dealt with.

    The question then becomes – whats next and what metrics of “success” are going to be used? Try critical one of getting back into the top U20 league has failed.

    That’s what all the big salaries at Murrayfield are paid for – identifying and resolving issues affecting the game and our development as a rugby nation. Score card at the moment not great!

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    • Mallinder doesn’t even live in Scotland – just taking money out of our game. Why are we getting all these guys from and English system that is embarrassing in terms of results for all its riches.
      Best bet is to look towards Irish system for me and let young players play for clubs as opposed to be training ground fodder for the pro teams.

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  9. Some of the changes Mallinder suggests are quite good, and you wonder why they haven’t been tried already. Super6 is an SRU competition. Why not say every side has to pick two U20s every game? Then you look at the fact U20s results haven’t been seen as important. Take Jamie Dobie – I don’t think he ever turned out for the U20 side. Hard to win when you think your best players develop more by training with a pro side.

  10. You had the quality of player…. You created a system where that quality died waiting for game time. This issue is brought into focus at out half. That position more than any needs game time. The SRU created their own rod for this result. The English premiership is full of talented young number 10’s. We have the talent – you chose to kill it! “It’s not these players’ fault. We had a young fly-half [Andy McLean] against Uruguay who has been playing at full-back for his Premiership club. It’s a really difficult ask. When our top player, Richie Simpson, is unavailable, we haven’t got the strength in depth and quality of player to be regularly competing against other international teams.

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  11. ‘What we don’t do here is point fingers.’ That’s exactly what you should be doing after a result like this. It’s called accountability, which goes to the heart of performance in every walk of life and without it there is no improvement. Hopefully that vote of confidence is on a par with the one given the poor wifey at Natwest last night before she was given the boot this morning. But somehow I doubt it.

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  12. What has happened to Stevie Gemmell? Is he not Jim Mallinder’s boss? What does he do for his no doubt generous salary? If the buck stops with anyone other than Mark Dodson then surely it’s Gemmell who was the architect and implementer overseeing the high performance department and academies for the majority of the past decade. Kenny Murray can only play the hand he has been dealt. Go back and read Gemmell’s interview at the launch of S6 5 years ago. Laughable.

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    • Gemmell has lead a charmed life for donkeys years .
      He will be on big money and brings nothing to the table no matter how bad he’s done
      I’ve lost count of the many made up fancy named jobs he’s had at Murrayfield .
      One of the many at Murrayfield that sit in offices that nobody really knows what they’re for..
      He’s supposed to be head of performance .
      Well that was some performance .
      Should be sacked with the rest of failed coaching system .
      But he and they won’t be …..just moved to another position made up for them.
      That’s what’s wrong with the set up in Scottish rugby

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    • No he’s not Mallinders boss.

      Mallinder is DOR at Murrayfield responsible for the elite and pro game. Gammell is head of rugby development who support the clubs.

      • I could be wrong Dom, but I’m sure Gav Scott is head of the rugby development department. Gemmell was Scottish Rugby’s Technical Director the last I heard but seems to have gone into hiding since Mallinder came on Board. Our confusion over what his role now is says it all really.

      • Indeed you are right SA. Gav is head or rugby development.

        Given Mallinder was briefly elevated to the Board to cover the quorum I still think he’s the more “senior” rugby guy there.

  13. Surely the buck stops at Mallinder who apparently still lives down south and travels up for work! Not the boys fault the u20s has been a shambles since 2019 – some of these lads have only seen the inside of a gym and hardly any rugby due to super6 not even letting them step down and play for their club team if not in the match 22.

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    • There seems to be so many levels of management it becomes difficult to know where the buck stops! Given Dodson is CEO and been in post so long, I would have thought that would be the place to start.

  14. Futures playing on Friday minus Scotland U-20s and without as much as a warm-up game? Have they even met each other, whoever they are? Hardly doing the kids (yes kids) any favours, then. Game’s hierarchy should bite the bullet and postpone their Super Six debut – until they’ve had time to fully train for what will be a huge step-up and huge challenge. Not suggesting these boys aren’t up to the job, but they don’t deserve to be thrown to the Wolves, or indeed the Knights – it could be Friday Night Lights Out before they’ve hardly been switched on.

  15. Another issue is that some of the talent identification and selections are bewildering at times. There are lads that have been in the set-up for years that wouldn’t remotely stand out in a Prem side, yet they’re in national squads and aligned with Glasgow Warriors/Edinburgh. Can only assume it’s down to coaches having to meet a quota to demonstrate how good a job they’re doing in bringing players through. Some played against Uruguay and were as anonymous as they always are, but they’ll no doubt be there next time!

    • Sadly I have to agree – it does at times feel as though some people are trying to justify their jobs. Have been bewildered by some of the selections particularly in the pack having seen a few of the regional and district games involving these lads over a few years.

  16. A fun word salad.
    Speak to the players Jim, the u20s, the extended squad, those kicked out of the Academies to make way for the Futures, the Futures themselves playing v men, those away at Uni, those played out of position, those dropped by S6 coaches because they made one mistake, winger with X factor and dropped after 50 mins then come back to us about how well Kenny is doing at u20s and Transition. Can SRU genuinely hand on heart say they prepared that u20 squad to the best of their abilities, 12 injuries aside? Can anyone name the 12 or should we, like Jim ask the statistician!

  17. Hit the nail on the head, game time. Super 6 was meant to fix this but the players there are mostly over 24/5 plus a few foreigners brought in too. The SRU should have added a rule (they like changing the rules/goal posts for Super 6) that each team has 5 U20s and they all need to play minimum 60 mins per game not to be in the squad and play no rugby!

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  18. “we haven’t got the strength in depth and quality of player to be regularly competing against other international teams”
    What – Zimbabwe, USA & Uruguay

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  19. Sounds like it’s the Super 6 franchises fault – must be those head coaches whose appointments are overseen by Murrayfield

    • Exactly it’s the SRU who essentially pick coaches and squads and some players have played for 3 franchises in the same tournament. The whole premise of S6 was to provide game time for young players but instead Dodson and Co decided they didn’t want club sides to be a bigger show and loaded the S6 with lumbering older journeymen shutting out the youngsters. Coverage of club rugby was then decimated and the club game minimised in every way possible whilst young players barely play now. It’s delusional of Mallinder to criticise the very structure he’s in charge of for not getting players game time and then somehow claim we are ‘improving’. The SRU could clearly ensure that the franchises picked young players but choose not to. Glasgow did a big splash about pro contracts for Logan Trotter and Max Williamson and they have immediately been bumped back to S6 which will do them no good at all. Trotter is 24….when will he be allowed any pro game time?? When he’s 37?? S6 has been a disaster and will never work. Put the resources into top 2 tiers of club rugby and stop kicking blocking 15 year olds from development programmes. There should be 20 plus competitive games for our 16-22 yr olds per season but some probably don’t play that many games during that age period in total. I’ve seen a lot of Nat 1&2 rugby recently and the young players in that are well ahead of the academy kids merely by playing meaningful league rugby every week. Sitting in the stand to watch 35 year olds in what are really friendlies in front of bored crowds barely making it to 3 figures clearly hasn’t worked. Laughable that the original premise of S6 was predicated on club rugby not being at a high enough level, when some of the best performing pros we have came out of it eg Finn, Horne, etc.

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