The people have spoken: June 17th to July 2nd 2019

The Offside Line's readers have their say on the rugby stories which have really mattered to them during the last fortnight

Roan Frostwick struggles to escape the clutches of a Fijian tackler during Scotland Under-20s defeat to the Pacific Islanders. Image courtesy: World Rugby

THERE has plenty for The Offside Line readers to get their teeth stuck into during the last fortnight, and top of the agenda has been Scotland’s poor showing at the World Rugby U20 Championship in Argentina, and the backlash against the SRU ‘independent’ review of their own governance structures.

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19th June: Big in Japan: Darcy Graham has Lions ambitions – but World Cup comes first

Edinburgh and Scotland winger Darcy Graham took time out of his preparation for the World Cup to reveal that his club coach, Richard Cockerill, has challenged him to become a Lion in 2021.

Chuck Douglas:

Been watching Hawick rugby for over seventy years and to me he is in the top three players to come out of the Green Machine, and will become a British Lion. Sad that with the advent of Dodson’s Super Six the link with the international team could be broken, not sure if any of the Super Six have went anywhere near producing two British Lions at the same time, Hawick at present have twelve Lions.

Tichtheid:

Who would be your other two?

Hoggy and Jim Renwick?

Chuck Douglas:

There are many candidates, I’am sure it would go down to personal choice, but don’t forget to consider Hugh McLeod.

Ian Lennox (via Twitter):

I’m afraid when it comes to Gatland, size matters!


22nd June: U20 World Champs: Scotland relegated after heavy defeat to rampant Fiji

A generally disappointing World Championship fizzled out for Scotland Under-20s with a demoralising defeat to Fiji, which relegated the team to the second-tier ‘Trophy’ competition next summer.

John Evans:

Time to rethink the attritional strategy that discards most players from state schools at an early age and then chucks out any others if they fail to develop as early as possible. I feel for the players because they put their heart and soul into the past few months. However, this is simply a symptom of the lack of interest in anything that resembles commitment to grass roots, growing the game or long-term development of the 15 a side game by Scottish Rugby. Our top scorer didn’t even come through the school system. Let’s get back to developing a broad base of talent. The money and effort put into Old Glory could have gone into developing more rugby in the state schools. I don’t see too many social media posts tonight from those in charge.

Paul Justice:

Grow the game from the ground up – pro rugby is a money pit that needs paying punters to watch, and not actually participate.

And perhaps it’s time for the Union to change its policy on how many games kids can play in a weekend. Most of the world allows a game a day – we’re limited to 90 minutes in a 48 hour period – which means kids have to choose between Club and school at the weekend.

Ian Davidson:

Disappointing but not entirely surprising. We need to broaden the base more generally – too many players slip under the radar with our obsession on the elite end of the game. Take the money that is going to be wasted in the complete farce that is the “ super six” and invest in the real club game.


23rd June: Exclusive: Sheriff Bill Dunlop questions SRU review of governance structures

Sheriff Bill Dunlop, the man who drafted the current SRU constitution, broke his silence to issue a withering assessment of the ‘independent’ governance review which was recently commissioned by Murrayfield.

PC Brown (via Facebook):

As a member of Bill’s committee I can confirm everything he relates is correct.

May Sinclair:

The problem is with people not doing their job properly. Sheriff Bill Dunlop hits the nail on the head, they should be replaced so what are the club’s going to do about it?

Bryce Weir:

To quote Lord Acton: “Power tends to corrupt: absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Keith Wallace:

Great to hear from someone well respected, truly independent, and with no axe to grind.

Spot on the money.

Would you put a penny of your money with Paddy Power on any response coming from a Chairman (and indeed CEO and President) who are “doing a Boris” and simply not engaging with the media?

We need more and more Clubs, the members of the organisation, to wake up to the fact that we are being badly let down by the people in positions of power, particularly those elected to look after our interests.

John Evans:

The clubs have to take control. There needs to be a degree of planning and tangible strategies, policies and processes on the absolute key issues tabled. Time is running out before the AGM if the clubs want to demonstrate leadership. Someone has to grab the bulls by the horn and stop dickie dancing around.

John Williamson:

A big thank you to Sheriff Dunlop for his words of wisdom, expert knowledge, and his skills in such matters!

I and others have made numerous comments on matters regarding the workings and decisions of the SRU in recent times. I have no doubt that these have either been ignored by the SRU or deposited in the big round filing cabinet inside Murrayfield. Obviously, I can only speak for myself here. My comments have been made purely because of my concern for the game in general and that of individuals who have been treated appallingly by the Union.(ex:Keith Russell affair)

With hindsight, I can imagine the destructive impact that could result without the input of a truly independent expert. When such disquiet arises the only way to resolve matters is to be completely transparent. The SRU have failed miserably in their attempts at what they consider transparency. The latest initiative looks likely to continue along the same bumpy road.

I was of the understanding that there had already been a review since Russellgate? I fear the time is coming ever closer to when the wheels are likely to come off! There is a great deal of uncertainty both on and off the pitch in the coming months!

I have not played Rugby since my school days. I became heavily involved in another sport, eventually coaching at the top level. However I still enjoyed working on the basics with children. There are rewards at both ends of the spectrum. However, I have come back to rugby as a part of my retirement. Not to sit at home and watch it on the TV, but to contribute something to the sport. Without volunteers and conscripts, sport as we know it will not survive!

Success at the top is probably the vision – at some point – for the majority who are involved in sport? However, as we all know that is not always feasible or even probable? Do we become disgruntled and walk away, or do we make the best of what we know and have at times enjoyed a great deal of pleasure?

So, who or what is going to influence change to what most of us think is best for all of rugby? I don’t have all the skills and knowledge to tackle such a task. How many readers can honestly say they have the tools required to take on the task? However, the club members with the support of Sheriff Dunlop, supportive past international players, the journalists at The Offside Line, and the combined efforts of all those who have been administrators in the club game over many years you can! You can at least have a really good try! That combination is a sizeable force when they all pull in the same direction! There is of course the obvious caveat. You won’t be successful unless you come together under the guidance of a suitable leader! I urge the readers to find the strength to come together for the benefit of all involved in Scottish rugby!

Neil Sinclair (via Twitter):

100% agree with what he said. Dodson and co want to find ways to avoid being accountable and hide behind NDA’s. The lack of transparency around the super 6 has been and continues to be ridiculous

Ewan McKeachan (via Facebook):

Don’t hold your breath but there’s an ex Lib Dem MSP, coming to sort things out!


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24th June: U20 World Champs: relegation is an opportunity to rethink youth development strategy

Alan Lorimer, a stalwart of The Offside Line and expert on Scottish age-grade rugby, gave his thoughts on Scotland Under-20s’ disappointing World Championship campaign.

Moody Blue:

We shouldn’t over-react to this relegation. Alan Lorimer’s article is a balanced one whose reasonableness stands out in comparison with some other comments this weekend. These young men will have given their best – don’t blame them. They are still the future of our game – lets not disillusion them out of playing with damning criticism. Alongside Alan’s article I think the following are relevant questions to be asked

a) Only 3 players who played for Scotland u16, four years ago were present at this world cup – Thompson, Davidson, McMichael. What has happened to the other 25 in that time? We know 3 of them – Dingwall, Redpath and Christie – are playing for England. Should we take up spaces in our development teams with players not prepared to commit to Scotland? How many of the others have walked away from the game?

b) Were the number of ‘injuries’ higher in this squad than normal, and if so why? Finlay Scott, Angus Fraser, Rory Darge, Charlie Jupp, Jack Mann, Sam Grahamslaw, Rauridh McLean were all missing through injury. What happened to Davis & Spencer, brought over 18 months ago from SA into the Academy, and then ‘disappeared’ around 6 Nations time – deemed not good enough? injured?

c) Would there be some advantage in one coach taking an age group through from u16 to u20 and working with them over 5 years? Or do we need specialists at u16, u18 and u20 who we retain year after year and who are seen as being experts in delivering the age grade development necessary at their particular age grade? At the moment it feels as though we use age grade rugby as a ‘coach development pathway’ as much as a ‘player development pathway’?

Alexander Smith:

This is by far the most sensible thing I’ve read regarding the reasons for and the implications of this relegations. Other seasoned rugby journalists and commentators have used the word embarrassing to describe it and whilst it is certainly disappointing I think that language is inappropriate. You can’t fault these young guys for their effort but as you rightly point out we a. don’t have a great track record at this age group anyway and b. there is a big proportion of this squad who fall into the really young category.

Thanks too for highlighting the part played by the independent schools because I’ve also seen a lot of misinformed nonsense spoken about this that is more about inverse snobbery than than rugby. By my own reckoning, and I may be out one or two either way, this U20 squad is about 50/50 and whilst this doesn’t reflect the balance in the school population its hardly the fault of the independent schools that state schools aren’t playing rugby. It’s funny that some of the bile that has been spewed at the supposed soft posh boys in the U20s squad seems to go away once you get to full international level as I’ve never seen anyone complain about how robust the likes of John Barclay or Stuart McInally are.

Scrummo:

A good article. I think the side really missed Grahamslaw who is a rare (at this level) full size Scottish prop and a prospect to boot. Walker shuffling across wasn’t ideal though I’m not convinced he’d have gone any better at tighthead.

Also Mann being injured was a blow. He’s another who at 104kg is a decent size and along with Marshall and van Niekerk who are similar could have freed up Sykes to rotate in at lock rather than flogging Johnson and Henderson. Darge was another miss from the backrow. That’s 3 players who all would arguably have started and at the very least would have seen our depth much improved. Surprised Butler didn’t go ahead of Bundy or Leatherbarrow as well as his size would have been useful to rotate in.

Ivor Santer:

An excellent article, echoing what many clubs with substantial youth sections have been advocating for years. Unfortunately, Murrayfield have only paid lip-service to clubs endeavouring to develop young players; not much financially backing, and little strategic thinking. No wonder we are now in a bit of a pickle!

Paul Justice:

Another review of age grade rugby – we had one a few years ago to get the private schools into a structured sru controlled league system – now can someone tell me improvements have actually been made was a result of that review.

Jontymo:

An excellent and well balanced article.

Our routine struggles at U20 RWC level can be boiled down to a few main issues, I’d suggest.

1) The competition structure is brutal – Ireland were a hair’s breadth away from relegation last year.

2) Our youngsters are typically genetically lightweight relative to our opponents e.g. Georgia monstered us.

3) Added to 2), the prevalence of drugs at youth level in Scotland is thankfully much less than in certain other countries.

4) We have far fewer overseas players coming in at U20 level to counteract our lack of size/quality than at full international level.

If anyone has any ideas how to produce gnarled 115-120kg props at age 18/19 then let them come forward.

As far as the schools/clubs debate some good points made…but if you were a Headmaster at an Independent school, why would you risk relegation from the top tiers, when it’s a key pupil recruiting factor?

And perhaps the clubs should agree a true national youth league before anything else – I don’t see the Borders teams playing in the same league as the likes of Stirling County, do you? I also don’t see the likes of Highland complaining about the distances they have to travel to play games, incidentally…

Pegj (in reply to Jontymo):

There’s a major difference between the Colt and Shogun Conferences.

The competitive season for the Colt Conference extends to 5 fixtures, whilst the top Club Conference campaign was 12 matches.

And we question why the U20s, with so many private schools boys in their rank, aren’t competition ready.

Andrew Murphy:

As usual no mention of public schools creaming off much of the talent produced by state schools and clubs with “scholarships” (bribery).

This practice undermines the incentive for others to produce players, reduces the numbers playing the game and weakens the whole system.

Jontymo (in response to Andrew Murphy):

The “bribe” being what, exactly? A free/subsidised education? Isn’t that what state schools offer?

Why does it remove the incentive to produce players? Because people only want success for themselves, not the player himself? A bit selfish, don’t you think?

Why does it reduce the numbers playing the game? It provides a place for another child to play in that team, does it not?

How does it “weaken the whole system” if good players are being exposed to a higher standard of rugby?

Andrew Murphy (in response to Jontymo):

It removes the incentive because the clubs and schools who produce them are left at a disadvantage when their players are poached!

It reduces the numbers playing the game because instead of developing their own players they rely on poached talent and by not developing their own players it weakens the whole system.

The public schools use their rugby success to drive pupil recruitment. It is a commercial arrangement which is to the detriment of the school game. We will never again see a state school/club win all 3 Youth competitions like Howe/Bell Baxter did a few years back.

Martin Cooper (via Twitter):

This is surely where the super 6 has an opportunity. A lot of the English lads are coming up through the A league which has a great standard of rugby – the super 6 needs to produce games of a similar standard

Donald McDonald (via Twitter):

They need to select out of the clubs as much as the schools. Clubs make rugby players – schools make athletes – we need a bit of both.

Paul Johnson (via Twitter):

Not sure the U20 team was well equipped to play in a world championship game with only one warm up game against Old Glory! They needed more time together with a couple more warm up games and they would have been fine! I suspect all that was down to budgets….again!

Ronnie:

Good article Alan. The main problem I see is that the Independent School’s main focus is on the U16/U18 cup competitions. As a result, these players have a very well structured and. on the whole, competitive fixture list prior to Christmas. After that, the focus disappears and the players play very little meaningful rugby. It’s difficult for some clubs to offer them competitive fixtures because they cannot sign-up to operate in a youth conference for the full season – in part due to the max game time directive The compromise solution could involve schools only offering rugby in term 1 – clubs could run a similar program pre-Christmas; players who want to play after Christmas join clubs and the SRU introduce a league / play-off programme that builds towards season-end rather than simply petering out.

Colin U:

Never blame the boys please – these guys try their best. If the team is not good enough and/or robust enough then is that not about organisation and structure of our player development e.g. my son is 6′ 4″ 19st 2nd row and played Nat 2 last season – I would have thought there would be some interest in developing him due to his size and robustness alone but doesn’t seem to be.

Also we have the ridiculous situation of Scotland’s biggest city with a large student population from all over the country not represented in Super 6. Where are these boys supposed to play to get exposed to tougher competition?

Jonny:

Genuine question, are there any really successful U20 coaches who have spent significant time coaching in the senior game? Look at England, Coaching system dedicated to age group all sacked for an ex Prem Coach and gone from 1st / 2nd every year to 5-8 play offs, coincidence?

Easy to forgive the players, especially if they learn but paralysing fear of failure (look how much better we played v NZ and when games were all but done)tiredness via poor rotation, how quickly heads dropped etc etc, speak to me of a Coach with little idea how to deal with young players.

Time for a coach or group of coaches to be dedicated to this level, maybe starting with ex Scotland international and one of the aforementioned specialist Eng age group coaches Peter Walton?

Gavin Blackburn (via Facebook): 

The academy set up needs seriously looked at, how we develop young players and find the balance between S&C and sufficient game time, not being promised the earth by “elite” club coaches then sat on a bench when more often than not they could have allocated to their club of origin and allowed to play.

Paul Justice (via Facebook):

Let’s invest in grassroots rugby – facilities, development officers, community coaches, etc. Clubs can work with schools who are interested in running programmes, or find other partners to work with (I’m sure our current President suggested the Guides when she was canvassing for votes). The clubs are best placed to know what might b appropriate within their communities – and instead of directing, Murrayfield staff could focus on advising and sharing good practice.

Mike:

One issue linked to the loss of Youth players is the SRU choice of 1st Sept, instead of 1st Jan, for the age cut-off.

It doesn’t match the Scottish School year [1-Jan approx], or the Representative one [1-Jan], or the one used by other major sports [football 1-Jan].

After playing mini-rugby with their friends as a year group (P3-P7), on entering Youth rugby players are split by “1-Sept”.
This causes unnecessary disruption and leads to player loss, as boys hate playing against “the year above”.

Someone needs to challenge the SRU on their age cut-off date [1-Sept].
– For Club-Youth rugby it only makes sense because “that is how it’s always been”.
– For School-Youth rugby this is a change imposed last season on the Conferences, and it makes no sense for School rugby to use 1-Sept as it splits school year groups.

Why do the SRU use 1-Sept as the age cut-off date for School Competitions, when the Scottish School year system fits better with 1-Jan?

Negatives:
– The 1-Sept cut-off splits-up groups of school friends and year groups.
– It leads to weak/new players quitting as they are forced to play against boys from “the year above”.
– You cannot select a Representative U-16 team, having watched an U-16 match, as about a third of the players will be too old. (meaning the players who are available probably rely on these older players to control their games)
– It doesn’t match other major sports (football) – kids like to know who their peers are.

Awaiting for someone to provide some good reasons for using 1-Sept rather than 1-Jan please.

The SRU like to make things difficult for themselves, without ever supplying an explanation!

Thanks
Mike (Mini/Club/School coach for at least 12 years)

—–
Age cut-off dates currently are:
Scottish School years = 1-Mar, but most Jan/Feb babies defer so in effect 1-Jan.
P3 to P7 Rugby = by school year [1-Jan approx]
Representative rugby = 1-Jan
Scottish boys football = 1-Jan
S1-S6 Rugby = now U-xx based on 1-Sept


24th June: SRU issue update on Sir Bill Gammell governance review

The SRU finally issued an update on the governance review they have commissioned, in which they justified the selection of Murrayfield insider Sir Bill Gammell to lead it and revealed that his long-time colleague Norman Murray would be assisting him.

Pegj: 

At last years AGM, Members were informed that Gavin MacColl QC, independant Chair of the Standing Committee of Governance, had been asked to Chair the review on Governance – I presume he rejected this request.

Keith Wallace (in reply to Pegj):

No explanation as to why the “partisan” (D Johnston’s fine description) MacColl is no longer doing the review, but now the “crony” Sir Bill is. The crony will report to the partisan.

No use of the word “independent” in this latest release, just “ideally placed”

Is this a euphemism for “they know what we want”?

Dom Ward:

Are we going to get the various bits of this review piece by piece? Chair is announced then the next week we get another member added along with the scope.

The SRUs view of what “independent” means could do with some refreshing. Though having set the precedent last year with Thomson’s “review” of the Russell affair we shouldn’t be surprised by these moves.


25th June: Stade Niçois unveil Ross Dunbar as latest Scottish recruit

Boroughmuir loose-head and Stage 3 Academy player Ross Dunbar is off to France next year.

Alistair Munro:

Try being a Boroughmuir supporter and sponsor with this scenario. Makes no sense to create S6 then take the players away.


Exclusive: Sheriff Bill Dunlop questions SRU review of governance structures

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