Coming soon … TOL’s round table discuss the male performance pathway

The Duke's Umbrella on Argyle Street in Glasgow hosted a lively debate on what needs to happen next for Scottish rugby to not only survive but thrive on the global stage

Former Glasgow Warriors and Scotland star Ruaridh Jackson holds court during The Offside Line's round table discussion on Scottish rugby male performance pathway which was hosted at The Duke's Umbrella in Glasgow. Image: © Craig Watson -
Former Glasgow Warriors and Scotland star Ruaridh Jackson holds court during The Offside Line's round table discussion on Scottish rugby male performance pathway which was hosted at The Duke's Umbrella in Glasgow. Image: © Craig Watson -

THE OFFSIDE LINE is committed to shining a light on and provoking constructive debate about the big issues  of the day which are central to the future health of rugby in Scotland.

With that in mind, we recently hosted the first in our new series of ’round table’ discussions, focussing on the hot topic of the male performance pathway.

With fantastic support from our venue sponsors, Base Hospitality Scotland, we invited a selection of journalists, performance sport experts and a former international player who now coaches at club level to The Duke’s Umbrella in Argyle Street in Glasgow to enjoy some great food, a few beers and to discuss what needs to happen next so that Scotland not only survives but thrives on the global stage for years and decades to come.

We will publish that conversation next week.

Meanwhile, we would love to hear from you on areas of the game you would like to see featured and debated and, courtesy of the Duke’s Umbrella, we are offering a gift voucher for two people to enjoy their famous Sunday lunch which will be awarded to the winning suggestion.  Simply send your suggestion to:


David Barnes, Alan Lorimer, Graeme Thompson, Alistair Gray and Ruaridh Jackson were brilliantly hosted at The Duke's Umbrella on Argyle Street in Glasgow when they met to discuss the male player pathway. John Fletcher - Scottish Rugby's Head of Pathways and Elite Coach Development - also joined the conversation. Image: © Craig Watson -
David Barnes, Alan Lorimer, Graeme Thompson, Alistair Gray and Ruaridh Jackson were brilliantly hosted at The Duke’s Umbrella on Argyle Street in Glasgow when they met to discuss the male player pathway. John Fletcher – Scottish Rugby’s Head of Pathways and Elite Coach Development – also joined the conversation. Image: © Craig Watson –

Chris Stewart joins Scottish Rugby Limited Board

About David Barnes 3908 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.


  1. The single biggest issue threatening the position of Scottish rugby is the very low playing numbers, which has been a smouldering issue since schools rugby collapsed in the 80s.

    In consequence, we are picking age grades and the national team from a very small player base compared to our Tier 1 peers and it shows in the kind of age-grade hammering we are now getting.

    The core issue it seems to me is not the Pathway system, albeit that it needs a serious overhaul, or support for the clubs, where much more is certainly needed from HQ, but some serious, joined-up action and resource to improve the parlous state of Scottish schools rugby.

    A school playing regular rugby, by the nature of its captive audience, is a conveyor belt of future club, age grade and international players, club volunteers and officers, supporters at all levels and the future parents of the next generation of young beginners.

    The parlous current status is that, out of more than 300 state secondary schools, only 15 are fielding one team per school year, with another dozen fielding 2 or 3 teams.

    There is other intermittent school rugby activity, such as 6-week rugby taster sessions and occasional little S1/S2 tournaments, but that doesn’t add up to lot.

    In short, we have a tiny, fragile player base and it is obvious that we now need to take action to rectify this.

    Two issues here:

    1) Need for a proper, long-term programme.
    The SRU has had several attempts over the years to increase school playing numbers, such as Schools of Rugby, but these always seem to fizzle out, as they tend to start our looking for instant success on a shoestring, rather than patiently growing the game. We need a clear 10-year plan and the necessary resources earmarked.

    2). Resolution of the Schools v Clubs issue
    There were quite a number of state schools, more than two dozen, who were keen to join the Schools of Rugby programme a decade ago in what was termed Tier 4. That met almost universal opposition from the clubs, who wanted the schoolboys to play in their club youth teams.

    What has happened since is that largwr clubs from Highland in the North to Dumfries in the south, and including Ayr, Stirling County, Perthshire, etc, etc have hoovered up the school players from their local schools, which has led to any organised schools rugby in many keen schools collapsing. The best players are cherry-picked for the super-club, the rest drop out.

    This a very unhelpful way of going about things. The clubs have very often nurtured young players through mini rugby and understandably view them as future club players.

    However, from age 12 to 16 or 17, they become pupils of a secondary school, which may wish to form rugby teams and establish a rugby ethos in the school, which we should very much welcome.

    Where a school wishes to play rugby, it must be allowed to get on with it without overtures and attempted recruiting by the local club. The club is free to recruit players from other schools not fielding rugby teams. If they don’t have another catchment school, then they won’t be able to run youth teams.

    How to proceed from this bottom of the barrel position?

    I think we have to start from scratch. Leave the Schools Conference as it is. But In each of 8 demi-districts, Central, Tayside & Fife, Glasgow North, etc. the aim in the first year should be to get half a dozen schools in a little S1/S2 competition. In year 2, that expands to U-15, and so on, until we have a full age-grade structure.

    This has been sort-of tried but not in a very realistic way. There is one Schools Officer per District in the SRU Development department, that is not a lot to do the fieldwork.A little league like these needs a voluntary local champion who can open doors and solve the issues. The schools need some financial help for equipment, travel etc. The local champion and masters coaching teams need a modest honorarium. The SRU District staff need to show some practical support, including coaches having a supportive look at how the school’s coaching is getting on, and so on. Basically, the SRU needs to come up with the budget – which would be pretty small beer overall – and the resolve to grow the game from the bottom up.

    Eventual target: 60 state schools, i.e. one in five, playing regular rugby at a good level. It is miles lower than Ireland, England, etc, but still more than double what we have now.

  2. I’d love to see the net cast wider in terms of the people invited in to these discussions. Particularly some players who have recently been through and are still going through the male pathway, along with the parents/guardians/club or school coaches that are supporting them through it.

  3. Though the SRU were going to let us know the grand plan for club rugby post super six……….yesterday

  4. What a great idea!

    Some suggestions

    Rescuing reserve team rugby
    How do we attract more volunteers to rugby clubs?
    National v regional rugby – what is the optimum size of national leagues
    Clubs doing it for themselves – what games should SRU administer and what should clubs do for themselves (back to the future with fixture secretaries)
    Finance – what funding is needed to successfully operate a rugby club?
    Facilities – the state of Scottish club facilities and gender use
    Player numbers – can Scotland maintain its place in top 10 nations with such a small player base? A club needs to have x number of players to support 1 team, 2 teams etc

    • Some very good points there Dom.

      I’ll have a stab at answering one, National v Regional rugby – what is the optimum size of national leagues?

      Clubs in the upper half of the leagues, with their eyes on the prize, invariably approach this from top down.

      You can’t, you need to start from bottom up, which means the regional leagues. We know from long experience that you need three tiers in a regional league, to accommodate the range of playing abilities. 10 team leagues are now widely accepted as the optimum league size, which means you need around 30 teams – say 28 to 32 – per Regional league.

      There are de facto 4 regional leagues, West, East, Midlands and North. So we need 120 teams at regional level.

      That leaves 40 teams playing nationally, which is 4 leagues of 10.

      That was the basis for the league reorganisation back in 2010. 75% of clubs would play regionally, 25% nationally, thereby a) sustaining the regions and b) cutting down on long national travel.

      That was fine and worked well until a posse of clubs said can we have an extra national league, N4, please, so that we can get ‘promoted’, and the SRU and AGM nodded along for an easy life.

      Net result – Many of the Regional Leagues are now short of numbers and having to play truncated seasons. East is 8 team leagues, ditto Midlands, which is not much use.

      Adding N4 was a mistake. It needs to be rescinded. I can well understand clubs and players wanting to play at a higher level, officers and coaches wanting to see a return for their hard work and so on. But the answer must always be, Sorry old chap, to get promoted in competitive sport, you need to firstly win your league, we can’t mess up 12 regional leagues to artificially promote a few clubs that finished 2nd and 3rd in their league.

      • Thanks Cripes

        Sorry I don’t recognise the league restructure you talk about. 2010 culminated in 12 team leagues.

        The Nat 4 solution was to deal with the fall out from the move to 10 team leagues which would have ejected clubs in Nat 3 into regional leagues. On top of that there was no Mondays and north set up in that proposed structure.

        There is likely a minimum standard required for teams to move into national leagues. At least 2 teams, clubhouse?, certified changing facilities that accommodate men and women, coaching infrastructure could be possible criteria.

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