SRU launch seven-point summer plan to help grow the grass roots

Sheila Begbie, head of Rugby Development, aims to encourage trust and co-operation between clubs and Murrayfield

Sheila Begbie wants clubs to feel more valued by Murrayfield for the work they do to grow the game. Image courtesy: Scottish Rugby/SNS Group.

THE SRU’s Rugby Development department has announced seven initiatives it will undertake in the coming months as part of its plan to provide more support to clubs. It has also drafted a strategic plan for the domestic game, titled The Way Ahead 2019-23, which is designed to address key issues such as player recruitment and retention.

Sheila Begbie, the head of Rugby Development, has already presided over a restructuring of the department since it changed its name from Domestic Rugby last September.

Outlining the initiatives at a Murrayfield press conference on Wednesday, she praised the work that is currently being done at club level by volunteers, and insisted that the changes would help improve relations between clubs and the governing body’s headquarters.


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“For us it’s about really trying to change the culture in the game,” Begbie said. “The work is fantastic that our clubs are doing. The work and the time commitment that some of our volunteers put into our clubs is huge.

“So we want to change the culture. We want to work very closely with our clubs to take the game forward, so we’re looking at moving the agenda from ‘us and them’ – because the first time I was going out to meetings it was all about ‘that lot at BT Murrayfield’ – to ‘we and together’. We want to work about how together we can make a difference.”

The initiatives are –

1 Summer roadshow to the Highlands and Islands. Thirty people will be part of the roadshow, visiting 22 clubs in the region from 5-8 June and running activities such as master classes, coach development and Tartan Touch tournaments. SRU President Dee Bradbury will be among the officials taking part.

“We want to do a summer roadshow on an annual basis,” Begbie said. “This is about us going to some of our more rural areas, saying ‘thank you’ to the clubs, and recognising the work that our clubs are doing.”

2 Iceland development visit. Next month 13 people will visit the country – population under 350,000 – in order to analyse its success in getting its women’s and men’s football teams into the finals of major tournaments. As a nation that punches above its weight, albeit in a different sport, Iceland could be a significant example for Scotland to emulate.

“Iceland does have a lot of indoor halls, but the clubs that we’re going to don’t have them. They have outdoor pitches and function throughout the season.”

3 Review of the structure of the male season, with the aim of implementing any change for 2021-22. Eight meetings with clubs planned for May and June, the aim being to see if there is a consensus for a different calendar.

“We have absolutely no agenda for what it is. We’re going out in listening mode and asking what it is that the clubs want.

“I think there will be some tough love in the room. It will be the clubs’ decision as to what they want, but we have to try and make things better. We want to involve players and coaches in the discussion as well.”

4 Girls’ youth age-banding change. Instead of playing in under-12, -15 and -18 age groups, girls will henceforth play under-12, -14, -16 and -18. The aim is to have fewer mismatches within games.

5 Tartan Touch. An indoor winter series will be trialled in the Caledonia and Midlands region to see if there is a demand for the format outwith its usual summer slot.

6 Pathway reviews. Analysis of how players continue in the game or drop out, with the aim of improving retention numbers.

7 Schools Conference roadshow, which will ask schools and clubs how they think conferences are going at present. A review of the Conference structure to follow next year, and Begbie is hopeful that there is scope for greater co-operation between schools and clubs to ensure that the best teams are playing against each other more often.

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The Way Ahead plan, Begbie explained, attempts to answer a question that is critical for the health of the sport: “How do we deliver a game that’s for life? How do we keep our players playing longer? That’s a bit of a challenge for us, so it’s about working with clubs to look at how we do that. It’s about individuals in rugby communities feeling valued.”

Key aspects of the plan include:

  • A transition programme for 18-to-20-year-olds, where the drop-out rate is particularly high. Focus on liaison between clubs and universities when young players move on from one to the other.
  • Walking rugby and other formats designed to keep people playing the game for longer.
  • Focus on volunteers and how best to support them. “If we’ve not got a good volunteer base at a club, that impacts on everything we’re doing within the club”.
  • Consultation on minimum standards. “Do we say, in the next couple of years, that to coach in the game you must have a qualification?”
  • A ‘leadership academy’ that plans to support younger club volunteers.
  • National marketing strategy. “How do we make the grassroots game much more visible than it is?”
  • Student interns at clubs and support for colleges and universities.
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While the restructuring of the game and the summer initiatives are all related to the SRU’s Agenda 3 programme, Begbie made it clear that her department would on the whole leave Super 6 to the High Performance department. “I want Super 6 to be successful. I want the attention of my department to focus on what we are going to do for the rest of the game. How are we going to make it successful and vibrant?

“We [the Rugby Development department] will be involved in providing match officials for Super 6 games, registering players, and some of the regulations. But Super 6 will be delivered through High Performance. I really want to focus on the bigger part of the game.”


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Stuart Bathgate
About Stuart Bathgate 587 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.

6 Comments

  1. The lady is doing her job, looking at the strategic issues facing the grassroots game and questing for better solutions. Player retention, season structure, pathways etc are all key components in getting us on the front foot and her initiative is a useful start.

    I have no patience with the all-too-frequent club view – from National leagues mainly rather than the excellent regional clubs – of just give us more money Murrayfield and leave us alone, we know what we’re doing. The hard reality is that player numbers are declining and lots of elements are not working that well, so the ‘leave it to us’ story is not too convincing.

    Item 7 is an interesting one, the Schools Conferences. The rugby-playing base in the country is woefully low. The Schools Conference, plus the Borders town league (where the schools supply the teams up to U15), amounts to about 26 state schools which can field one team per school year. That’s 26 out of about 330 state schools in Scotland, 8% of schools, which is derisory really next to our international opponents. School players not only populate the club teams, they are the conveyor belt of future club supporters, volunteers, officials, Murrayfield attendees who help finance the game etc, etc.

    There were plans to add a further 26 (IIRC) keen schools in Tier 4 Schools conferences, which would have started to give us semi-respectable numbers. But the clubs put the mockers on that. What has happened instead is that, in every one of the 20+ main towns, the clubs have cherry-picked the local school teams to put out a Club youth team – and the school teams have fallen by the wayside, don’t even compete on the Schools Cup any more let alone local district fixtures.

    In Ayr, Stirling, Inverness, Dunfermline, Hamilton, Kilmarnock, Dunfries, Falkirk and the rest, the club is putting out a youth team drawn from 2, 3, 4 schools, so 15 boys are getting a game, whereas leaving the schools to play their own fixtures would see 30, 45 or 60 boys getting a game. No argument about which would be better for increasing player numbers in the game – but ‘leave it to us, we clubs always know better’.

    It is a nonsense arrangement frankly, it is arse-about-face logically but dictated by the clubs who absolutely insist on their right to do things the wrong way and for the wrong reasons. The halfway compromise will probably be something like inviting the Tier 4 club youth teams to participate in the Schools Conference. But honestly, if the aim was to grow player numbers, you wouldn’t start from here with some senior clubs waving their arms about and insisting on mucking everything up, you would drive for 60 state schools willing and able to play in district leagues – and there are close to that number who were keen before the clubs stepped in with their me-me wrecking ball approach.

    Good luck to Sheila Begbie in getting to a sensible solution here, against club vested interests and aye-been outlooks, she won’t have to go looking for the problems.

  2. I’m pleasantly surprised by the work of the Development team having feared more of the same.

    I’ve read several different takes on Sheila’s pitch and applaud the approach.

    There is a lot to do and it’s right to ask clubs to step up. I would also suggest that there is a massive amount of work required on those in “them at Murrayfield”.

    Collaboration is a two way process and requires a clear sense of our shared goals. What is the purpose of club rugby? Does that change between the Premiership to the national leagues to the regional game?

    You can’t encourage trust and cooperation. It’s needs to be build and nurtured. Given what we as clubs have been through the last couple of seasons with the imposition of Agenda 3 and Super 6, I would suggest that we need tangible demonstrations of “Murrayfields” readiness for this. And that’s all of Murrayfield given Mark Dodson is choosing to stay silent for the moment.

    The quote in the Scotsman of “might need some tough love” doesn’t fit that picture.

    Finally, while what’s been done to date is admirable, I find it difficult to believe that we will be presented with a blank bit of paper and there are no views from the develop team. My experience of the club forums to build the strategy plan were that they came with already created goals and adapted these to the comments provided by the clubs at those meetings.

  3. Spot on John! A flimsy PR exercise designed by those who have never been there at the coal face, or “done it”, simply to give the appearance of progress & progressive thinking.

    If this is the extent and depth of the lamentably predictable, mind-numbing SRU approach, we are doomed. Clearly, it is all more about the SRU and its huge raft of patronising dumbed-down out-of-touch newby hub & “I have spoke” executive managers, anxious to justify their existence with change, any kind of change, for the sake of change….

    Let them all go forth in their massed ranks and multiply in Iceland (at their own cost), Farmfoods or wherever – as long as they stay away and stop bothering grassroots clubs with their mixed-up, uninformed, ignorant, uneducated trash-talk.

  4. This is really bad. The SRU is made up of the clubs, but the SRU are talking as if they own the game and have franchised out the grassroots to the clubs.

    Talking “changing the culture” is appalling. The culture at the clubs is the culture of Scottish rugby and is fine. It’s the culture of the SRU management that needs to change. They should remember they can all be removed from their jobs by the clubs they are trying to tell what to do.

  5. Don’t tell us what you’re going to do, tell us what you’ve done. This should be business as usual. The chasm between ‘ Scottish Rugby’ and its ability to invest in clubs in the USA and elsewhere ( if rumours are true) and the SRU who can’t recognise and react to basic issues or even give refs decent kit becomes canyon-esque. This is just trying to fill a ‘ no news’ week in the run up to Easter. More ‘Yes, Minister’ or should that be ‘ Yes, D…..’?!

    • Spot on John! A flimsy PR exercise designed by those who have never been there at the coal face, or “done it”, simply to give the appearance of progress & progressive thinking.

      If this is the extent and depth of the lamentably predictable, mind-numbing SRU approach, we are doomed. Clearly, it is all more about the SRU and its huge raft of patronising dumbed-down out-of-touch newby hub & “I have spoke” executive managers, anxious to justify their existence with change, any kind of change, for the sake of change….

      Let them all go forth in their massed ranks and multiply in Iceland (at their own cost), Farmfoods or wherever – as long as they stay away and stop bothering grassroots clubs with their mixed-up, uninformed, ignorant, uneducated trash-talk.

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