RWC23: Scotland’s unsung hero Gavin Vaughan on making a little go a long way

‘Lead National Team Performance Analyst’ plays a key role in identifying potential recruitment targets

Gavin Vaughan during Scotland's training session at Stade Nicois on Tuesday. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Gavin Vaughan during Scotland's training session at Stade Nicois on Tuesday. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

GAVIN VAUGHAN is an unsung hero in Scotland’s backroom team. His official job title is ‘Lead National Team Performance Analyst’ and his responsibilities range from wading through hours of opposition video footage to help devise the game-plan for upcoming matches, to scouring the internet for Scottish-qualified talent in far flung corners of the globe who might be worth recruiting.

His name may not be widely recognised among the casual rugby watching public, but since initially linking up with Gregor Townsend at Glasgow Warriors in 2017, the softly spoken Welshman has been a near ever-present adviser and sounding board at the now national team head coach’s side.

As a small country, it is imperative that the national management team are able to sniff out and exploit any edge which might help Scotland continue to compete against the big boys of world rugby, and Vaughan makes no bones about the importance of being able to bring in individuals who have already established themselves as pro – and maybe even international – players elsewhere, if they can add value to the Scotland set-up in the way that Huw Jones, Sione Tuipulotu, Kyle Steyn and Sam Skinner have.


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Of the 33-strong Scotland squad currently preparing to take on Romania in the team’s penultimate World Cup pool match in France on Saturday night, 16 learned their rugby inside Scotland. Five more – Johnny Matthews, Ewan Ashman, Hamish Watson, Ali Price and Cam Redpath – came through the Scottish Exiles [now known as SQ] programme meaning they have been on the radar since their early to mid teens. Meanwhile, the other 12 were recruited after they had already established themselves in the pro game elsewhere.

“I could do with a pay rise but couldn’t we all!” joked Vaughan earlier this week, when asked about just how instrumental he has been in Scotland’s far reaching recruitment programme. “It’s something I still do. I’m still responsible for the senior Scottish-qualified players. We’ve got a bit of a change in structure now with the 18-20 age pathway and there’s a bit of alignment with Peter Walton [as ‘SQ (Scottish Qualified) Performance Player Transition Manager’] and John Fletcher [‘Head of Pathways and Elite Coach Development’].

“I’m always looking and chatting to different people. It could mean cold calling someone or trying to track someone down who a friend of a friend has told me has got a Scottish mum or a Scottish dad or has even got a Scottish-sounding name. Some are successful and some are not but I’m constantly on the lookout because we are a tiny rugby nation.

“We need to grow our own and we are growing our own – there are a lot of guys here who have come through the system,” he added. “But we also have to be smart and look outside as well because there are more rugby players in Sri Lanka than there are in Scotland.”

According to World Rugby – the global game’s governing body – there were 46,050 registered players in Scotland and 59,509 in Sri Lanka (presumably counting men, women and kids) the last time they collated all the stats. That leaves Scotland ranked 16th when it comes to player numbers, a long, long way behind the heavyweights of South Africa with 635,288, England with 355,153, Australia with 271,922 France with 248,257 and New Zealand with 156,074 registered player each, and even Ireland with 94,067 and Wales with 107,959.

 

  • Number of registered players in other countries competing at this World Cup –

 

 

Meanwhile, of more immediate concern for Vaughan this week is helping make sure Scotland’s players are properly prepped for Romania on Saturday and Ireland seven days later.

“Romania’s No 13, Jason Tomane, is a good player. He’s [Australian international] Joe Tomane’s brother,” Vaughan replies, when asked about the first of those tasks. “Hinckley Vaovasa, the 10 who’s played a lot at 15, has been impressive in the first two rounds. He’s got great footwork and he could cause us some problems, especially the way they attack with him in the backfield.

“And they’ve got a couple of good young guys in their back three. We have to look out for them and switch on. A big thing for us after the Tongan review is being clinical for 80 minutes.”

Turning his attention to the second and significantly more daunting of these upcoming challenges, Vaughan explained: “I’m presenting [on Ireland] to the coaches on Wednesday and Thursday. I’ll take all that stress away from the coaches and let them focus on Romania for the rest of this week.

“The plans are well in place and we’ve definitely got a few things up our sleeves. It’s going to be very tough. Obviously, we saw the result [against South Africa] at the weekend and they’re not the No 1 team in the world for nothing, but there are definitely opportunities and I think we did stress them in certain areas at Murrayfield [during the Six Nations], so we’ll be hoping to do the same in a couple of weeks.

“I think they are very consistent, and it grows with the confidence you get from winning trophies and titles. When it comes to the Ireland week, we know we have to be on every play, every moment and that’s something we’re drilling into the boys.

Vaughan, Townsend and defence coach Steve Tandy were all part of the management team on the last Lions tour, to South Africa in 2021, and he believes that experience of working day-to-day with several Irish players who will face Scotland next Saturday can also help his plotting.

“There’s one or two [learnings], especially around some individuals, some technical stuff that we can hopefully dial into,” he said. “It was a great experience for me to go on that tour and get to know them personally and work with them in detail. You get to know what they need in their preparations, knowing what they are looking for in their defence and stuff like that. So, I’ll be dropping a few nuggets this week, for sure. Every little thing counts in these big games.”


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About David Barnes 3911 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.

7 Comments

  1. We don’t have enough players. And don’t compare well to some nations in that respect. OTOH for context England and France have more than 10 times the population of Scotland so in terms of rugby playing numbers (and none a red likely to be accurate or comparably compiled) we do rather well
    Increasing player numbers is not simple not straightforward and every nation has different circumstances to deal with and simple direct comparisons while interesting not in themselves the be all and end all

  2. We are a tier 2 nation in all but name and have only kept our head above the water by importing players left right and centre to the complete detriment of grass roots rugby. We have four times as many players as Georgia but they destroy us at under 20 level which is the real barometer. The SRU under Dobson is a commercial entity and to be commercially successful you need to invest in the product. However we have just splashed the cash and imported the resources from anywhere and everywhere and nobody including the many “international only day out Scotland” are happy with this faux success. We have even stooped to using the ruling that was designed to assist Tier 2 nations by bringing in Dempsey. Just watched an interesting video on you tube by 2 cents rugby and just reinforces what Grant and I are saying https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JrleDjsjyt4

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  3. “As a small country, it is imperative that the national management team are able to sniff out and exploit any edge which might help Scotland continue to compete against the big boys of world rugby, and Vaughan makes no bones about the importance of being able to bring in individuals who have already established themselves as pro – and maybe even international – players elsewhere,”

    Above the core of our problem…46K registered players. Ireland, as similar sized nation has double that, and are currently the number 1 side in the world, who have just beaten the defending champions at the World Cup. Not to mention that the majority of their current squad and U20’s squad are home grown.

    Can someone explain what’s wrong with that picture?

    I’ll save you the time…the SRU leadership. Full stop.

    Toony et Al should be screaming about this everywhere they go. But nothing, not a curdy, because he wants to keep his job.

    It is the slow death of Scottish Rugby. It been happening for 40 years because the same blazers make the same decisions backed by very little other than their own ego’s.

    Its heart breaking to watch.

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    • I would argue with your statement “It is the slow death of Scottish Rugby. It been happening for 40 years because the same blazers make the same decisions backed by very little other than their own ego’s”.

      Their inflated salary cheques are I’m sure equally important to them.

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