SCOTTISH RUGBY has brokered a partnership deal with French club Stade Nicois which will see stand-off Josh Henderson, back-rower Bruce Flockhart and hooker David Cherry play in what is effectively the fifth tier of Gallic rugby next season.
Veteran of the bunch, 26-year-old Cherry has played the last three seasons at London Scottish after representing Scotland ten times at under-20 level (which included starting in all five games at the 2011 Junior World Cup in Italy).
Henderson and Flockhart were both involved in the national Under-20 squad which achieved a best ever fifth place finish at this year’s Junior World Cup in Georgia last month. They were due to play their club rugby with Glasgow Hawks in the BT Premiership during the 2017-18 campaign and their departure will leave a gaping hole in the heart of Finlay Gillies’ team as the Anniesland outfit look to build on last year’s third place finish in the league.
Losing two of Scotland’s brightest young stars is also a significant blow to the profile of the Premiership as a whole, and will be viewed by many as confirmation that those running the performance arm of the game in Scotland do not take that tier of the game very seriously.
Key figures at Murrayfield (including chief executive Mark Dodson and director of rugby Scott Johnson) have spoken on a number of occasions about the importance of building a coherent strategy for the top end of the club game so that it can play a meaningful role in the national performance pathway – but despite an independent consultancy conducting a wide-ranging investigation into this question at the tail end of last season we are still waiting for an up-to-date plan to be unveiled.
Furthermore, Keith Russell left his post as Scottish Rugby’s director of domestic rugby back in May, but the governing body has not yet publicly acknowledged this important change in key personnel or provided any details as to who has taken over his responsibilities – which hardly provides reassurance that dealing with the long standing problems plaguing the club game is a priority within Murrayfield’s corridors of power.
One leading French rugby website reported last Thursday that eight or nine Scottish players in total will be directed towards Stade Nicois this season; and that the Mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi, had met with SRU president Rob Flockhart to support the project.
The site also stated that a Scottish consortium with the help of the Scottish Rugby Union and in partnership with insurance giants Allianz (who own the naming rights of the club’s ground) will purchase Stade Nicois in September. It added that the Scotland Sevens team will set up their training camp in Nice. A Murrayfield spokesman has denied both those claims.
“We are looking to place players into a variety of different environments, at different levels. For younger players it is to broaden their experiences and for those reaching the end of their careers to provide pathways into coaching. In return we can provide opportunities in Scotland for players from other countries who are also looking to develop,” said Dodson.
“Our arrangement with Stade Nicois is therefore consistent with our recent activity with Western Force in Australia, Western Province in South Africa, Lille and London Scottish.”
According to French rugby newspaper Midi Olympique, Stade Nicois president Patrice Prevot said: “The SRU were looking for partners on the continent. The discussions took 13 months. It’s a long-term arrangement. The Scottish Rugby Union decided to invest as a major partner alongside the Allianz Group which has just extended its partnership for five years. In addition to the financial support, which matches that of Allianz, the SRU will make available young internationals looking to develop, as well as experienced players. The partnership should also make it possible to form links and operate exchanges.”
Nice Rugby has existed in its current form since 2012 and currently operates in Federale Division 2 with a budget of €1.4 million for the coming season. The club’s stated ambition is to reach Pro D2, the fully professional second division, by 2021.
Henderson will have to battle for game time in the south of France against veteran Italian stand-off Luciano Orquera.
Former Glasgow Warriors players Peter Murchie and Tyrone Holmes have also joined the club, where they will continue their transition into coaching.
It is debatable whether Federal Two, the league Stade Nicois play in, represents a step up from the BT Premiership, but the video below from last season does suggest that life at their new club certainly won’t be dull for the young Scots.