RUGBY PLAYERS SCOTLAND [RPS], the association which has been set up to represent the collective interests of Scottish professional players, recently completed its first piece of meaningful business, when it reached an agreement with the SRU on the terms and conditions for player contracts related to next month’s World Cup.
The new agreement represents a departure from what has gone before, with an emphasis this time on every player who takes part in the build-up – not just those who make the final squad – being paid equally for the period of their involvement.
“One of our big things as a players’ association is equality,” explained Glasgow Warriors lock and RPS Chairman Tim Swinson. “The Scotland squad’s motto is ‘#AsOne’ and taking the 31-man squad for the World Cup, last time the eight who weren’t in the 23 for any particular match got paid differently to the 23 who did.
“Those eight are integral to how the 23 perform at the weekend. If your training is crap, you’re not going to be good at the weekend. At the World Cup, you win as a 31 and lose as a 31 and you’ll be remembered as the Scotland squad that didn’t get to the quarter-finals or the Scotland squad that won the tournament.
“We felt that equality was very important and that it should go back all the way to the start of the summer. There’s no difference between what the people you’d assume are definitely on the plane are doing in those first eight weeks and those who are there to hold a bag because they need numbers.
“But without that whole range of guys contributing from the start, the team is not going to be as good as it would be going to the World Cup. We feel that if everyone is treated the same, it will only improve Scottish rugby on an international level.
“There is now a weekly fee which starts from the first week of training right through to the World Cup Final. Everyone who was in camp that week will get that fee and the only time there are bonuses on top of that are for [reaching] the quarter-final, semi-final and final, and [for] winning the tournament. Even then, it will be the whole 31 who are paid.”
Ahead of the 2015 tournament, squad captain Greig Laidlaw shouldered responsibility for striking a deal on behalf of the players. This time, experienced business consultant Bill Mitchell – the interim Chief Executive of RPS – sat down with SRU Finance Director Andrew Healey and Scotland team manager Gav Scott.
“Greig did a great job last time negotiating on behalf of the players – but he’s a great scrum-half, not a trained negotiator,” said Swinson. “He’s a guy from Jedburgh who plays rugby. He should not be put in that position, as a captain, to negotiate on behalf of players. Full credit to him that he did it, I would not have liked to be in his shoes.
“To have someone who is removed from the group, who knows what we’re doing and takes a professional approach, just allows that separation.
“From the moment the squad was announced, we’ve explained what we’re aiming for, why we’re doing this and there was 100% buy-in from those players that they agreed with it.”
Collaboration is key
Swinson was speaking at the official launch of RPS at Watsonians’ Myreside clubrooms in West Edinburgh on Thursday night. While the impetus for the new organisation came from two fairly emotive issues – a bonus dispute at Glasgow Warriors and the SRU’s handling of alleged cocaine use by John Hardie in 2016 – there is clearly a desire to move past historic grievances and build a collaborative relationship with the governing body.
“It is important when we talk about what we’ve achieved, that we pay our thanks to the SRU who we have worked alongside to get to this point,” said Mitchell. “It has taken rather longer than we had hoped but we understand there is dynamics and challenges for everybody.
“I want to stress that this is about a collaborative relationship. There was a lot of concern at the very beginning about this being run counter to the SRU’s desire to look after the players. That is not the case.”
Helping negotiate the players’ World Cup deal was clearly an important first step in demonstrating to the membership that RPS can make a meaningful contribution.
Looking ahead, a Memorandum of Understanding with a three-year term has already been agreed with the SRU, while Mitchell is hopeful that a meeting tomorrow [Monday] will finalise the terms of a voluntary collective bargaining process, enshrining RPS’s position as recognised representatives of Scotland’s contracted rugby players.
Ultimately, the plan is to build a support network to help players cope with the stresses, strains and post-career uncertainties they encounter. Swinson is quick to acknowledge that the life of a professional baller is not a bad lot, but points out that it also encounters pitfalls.
“RPS is for anyone who is paid to play rugby in Scotland – for us that is anyone who is contracted to the SRU – so that is Sevens, Edinburgh and Glasgow, plus we are looking to cover the Super6 clubs when that starts later this year,” he explained. “That includes all full-time players and all the academy players who get paid to any level.
“Any player based outside Scotland who is eligible to play for Scotland will also have the ability to become a member, so that we have the ability to talk as a national team.
“We’re also going to include former professional players because we believe that we have a responsibility to them if they need help now or at some point in the future.
“While amateur players are not within our purview, if they did come to us asking for help, we will find the best way to help them because we feel that we are a family as a whole, and there are issues that don’t just relate solely to the professional game.”
Swinson is passionate about RPS being able to provide advice and representation in areas such as: discipline (on and off the field), post career planning, independent confidential counselling and support, and finance.
Scotland, who are the last Tier One nation to establish a players’ association, have been warmly welcomed into the international fold.
“We’ve already been appointed to IRP [International Rugby Players’ association] panel, not within the top tier but in the second group, but on the executive already,” explained Mitchell. “So, for the first time our players’ voice is being heard within that body. We were heavily involved in the discussions around the change to Word Rugby’s timetabling, so having that voice in international rugby is very powerful and something we value greatly.”