READER feedback is a crucial element of The Offside Line’s coverage of Scottish rugby, so we have decided to start collating the best submissions we receive so that we can publish them in a fortnightly article.
We welcome submissions via Facebook, Twitter and comments at the foot of articles on the site. You can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, but please make it clear that you consent to have your words published and attributed.
We welcome views on all aspects of the game – things you like and things you don’t like – but please keep it respectful and constructive. Here is the first instalment of our new series –
8th April: Rangi Jericevich column: There is hope on the horizon for club rugby in Scotland
GHA’s Director of Rugby took a deep dive into how club rugby needs to move forward positively to reverse the alarming slide in participation at grassroots level, and his thoughts resonated with a number of readers.
Rangi expresses a coherent case for supporting clubs and club players. After all, where are the SRU going to find all the players they need to sustain their model? Apart from the wholesale importation of even more overseas professionals/semi-pro, they will come from the ranks of juniors currently being fostered by the amateur community clubs that form the bulk of its membership. Their ignorance of the “club game” and the significance of it to the continuance of our sport and its ethos is lamentable. Recent behaviours such as the lawyer-led SGM set alarm bells ringing. Without a healthy, vibrant and sustainable club structure, there will be no future for Scotland as a rugby nation. The recent media blackout on the progress of the club-supported National League Cup says it all. Added to that, the utter confusion over the league structure and relegation at the end of this season serve to illustrate the complete disdain at Murrayfield for those trying to keep rugby going at grassroots level. I fully support Rangi’s vision of the potential future for a thriving club and district scene. Perhaps the new appointments in the regions will facilitate this, but only if their work and goals are paralleled and properly funded by the men in suits (or is it blazers?) at HQ. Come on, SRU, drop the lawyers and start listening to what the clubs are telling you. If not, rugby has a very bleak future in Scotland.
The phrase that jumped out at me from that article was “outwith the dead-hand influence of their governing body”. Folks go to watch matches on cold, wet afternoons and evenings that they have an emotional or otherwise vested interest in – their club, a player from their club playing in a regional team, or their national team. It’s taken the pro teams a long time to generate that following, and much credit to their community outreach programs to generate that association with the clubs, and especially the Sunday player visits to mini rugby.
I doubt many of the 1.2 million people living in Greater Glasgow will feel any such association with any of the S6 teams. The crowds at Scotstoun for the regional Cup/Bowl/Plate finals day does suggest that grassroots rugby can generate an audience, which hints strongly at what a district/regional game might achieve.
The franchise sports model is great, but question one is: “show me your turnstile income projections”. I, personally speaking, do not believe that question has been adequately addressed.
Excellent piece Rangi!
As you say, we only need to look at the USA to see what happens to college sports players – who likely only got there on the basis of their sporting prowess rather than broader intelligence.
2-3% of basketball players make it to the NBA.
From 20 million youth players (yes, million), 1.8m make it to high-school football. That falls to 35K in college for 1,200 pro-player slots. Approx 3% and that assumes the college kids are getting a shot.
The NFL estimate that the career span of a Pro American football player is 3.3 years! That’s not enough time to set yourself up for life.
12th April: Edinburgh v Ulster: play-off hopes in balance after dispiriting loss
Richard Cockerill’s side slumped to a heavy defeat at home to Ulster earlier this month, which left them facing an uphill battle to make the PRO14 play-offs this season.
Dire, dire, dire. Was this the same Edinburgh I saw beat Toulon in Toulon in January? On-field leadership lacking. Unforced errors aplenty. Specifically I reckon Mata is underperforming, half-backs also. And we miss Kinghorn, more so when we lose Graham from the wing. Aaaaggghhh! Roll on next season.
13th April: Leinster v Glasgow: dramatic fightback gives Warriors vital victory
The following day, Glasgow Warriors scored an impressive victory over Leinster, although there was concern over the injury picked up by Sam Johnson after only 20 minutes.
Sam Johnson has been on fire for a while, but I don’t think he is vital to Glasgow’s progression. Obviously you want your best players available and he is one of them. I vividly remember the chat heading across to Belfast for the Pro12 final that how much better the Glasgow team would have been with Dunbar and Bennett available, but Horne and Vernon were superb in that game. The good thing for Glasgow is that so many players are peaking compared to the same time last season. Cummings has been a revelation in the last couple of games and Jamie Bhatti has become a beast of a scrummager all of a sudden. It’s all a bit surreal that a Glasgow pack can man-shame Ulster and get the better of Leinster while the Edinburgh pack disintegrated against a very similar Ulster.
Rennie said after the Saracens game that some players were playing for their jobs and it seems to have worked – Tommy Seymour seems to have snapped out of the funk he has been in for the last two years, Gray is not just making 20 standard tackles but dominant ones too, and Ali Price seems back to the form that cut up Australia a year and a half ago.
17th April: SRU launch seven-point summer plan to help grow the grass roots
Sheila Begbie – the SRU’s Director of Rugby Development – gave a press briefing last week, in which she provided an update on the restructuring of her department during the last year and outlined a seven-point plan to address the decline in participation in the sport at grassroots level. There was a mixed response from readers.
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.
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 needs to be built 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 “Murrayfield’s” readiness for this. And that’s all of Murrayfield given Mark Dodson is choosing to stay silent for the moment.
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 that 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.
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…..’?!
Cameron Bushell (via Facebook):
You can start by giving Murrayfield Wanderers their clubhouse back.
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.
17th April: Shawn Muir and Andrew Mitchell reject Super 6 offers to commit to Hawick
It was announced that two of the leading players in last season’s Premiership have decided to stick with their hometown club rather than move to a Super 6 franchise.
David Henderson (via Facebook):
This is really about players having common sense and taking control of their own development. Andrew Mitchell is a great talent and should move on to better things soon, but he has realised that staying at Hawick for another season will be of benefit. It will only be one season then he will go to or bypass Super 6.
Kenny Hamilton (via Facebook):
Andrew Mitchell is one of the best young talents I’ve seen this season. Great to see he will be in the Scottish Premiership next season. And Shawn has shown great loyalty. Well done Hawick.
Corgi George (via Facebook):
Can’t blame them.
Situations like this were predicted by many a knowledgeable rugby fan. This could happen a great deal and we are in danger of Nat 1 rugby being the best league in Scotland!!
DJ McAdam (via Twitter):
If Super 6 can’t persuade Shaun Muir to play in it, who can it attract? And if Muir isn’t in it, it’s not really a competition featuring the best players in Scotland.
Watsonians triumph at Berwick to move to second in ‘Kings of the 7s’ series