Why the SRU Look to ‘Foreign Aid’

The pro sides have brought in a number of signings for 2012/13. All images courtesy of the SRU

When the news broke that Edinburgh had signed two Welsh internationals in John Yapp and Richie Rees there was the beginning of some grumblings about why the SRU were failing to promote Scottish youth by signing players who are not Scots qualified. Of course whenever a press release flies out from EH12 about any new signing there is always the copied and pasted line of “PLAYER X will bring on any young Scottish players”. All that the fans see, though, is that someone is flying in and occupying a spot.

To think like this does a disservice to the unique situation of Scottish rugby. What people must make peace with is that there are two pro teams in Scotland and will be for the foreseeable future. The SRU cannot see sports sides like Rangers FC going to the wall and see institutions like the newspaper industry struggling and say that it is viable to create a new brand. At times like these the prudent move is to solidify your foundations. Strengthen your existing brands.

It must be said that the SRU have taken a very even handed approach to this philosophy and while anything about Andy Robinson improving the national side may be off the mark for now, it is moves like these where the Union and its Head Coach seem to be making decisive choices.

Both Edinburgh and Glasgow have specialised, focussing on one competition each and pushing their way to the top. For Glasgow it has been hard going and they have tilled a path through attrition alone. They were fighting on two fronts at one point, but found themselves stretched to breaking point. They hardened and targeted themselves at the RaboDirect playoffs.

Edinburgh, just along the M8, played it differently. They have thrown everything they have at the Heineken Cup and it has seen them rewarded handsomely. They imply that the RaboDirect is also a going concern –and the players have always given their best in this competition –but an 11th place finish would not keep Michael Bradley up at night.

Both of these teams have tightened, made their points very clear and they have impressed in the arenas they have chosen. The Warriors have lived up to their moniker and the Gunners have caused many a mouthful to be spat out in shock. Their Heineken Cup run is something which has forced those at the ERC and at big media institutions to acknowledge Edinburgh’s exalted play.

However, it cannot be denied that both of these teams have not had the depth, strength or resources to fight in the league and in the Cup. So how do you address that?

It is understandable that some fans are disappointed that the extra squad places have not gone to Scots qualified players, but signings Tim Swinson, Byron McGuigan, Sean Lamont, Greig Tonks are all qualified and WP Nel has apparently offered his services when he qualifies under residency. On top of this, players that have stood out at either club level, international level, or both, will still be there. Stuart Hogg, David Denton, Ross Rennie and Lee Jones have all shone in international rugby and remain. The outstanding club players of the season, Greig Laidlaw, Chris Fusaro, Matt Scott, Nick De Luca, Duncan Weir and Jon Welsh will still be here. No one needs reminding either that Tim Visser qualifies this summer.

These men need support and there is still time for guys like Rob Harley, Ryan Wilson, Tom Brown, Stuart McInally and Grant Gilchrist to take that next step. However, now that the SRU are hoping to grow the brands and begin to solidify places in the Heineken Cup and Pro12, simultaneously, there must be more strength in depth. Last week I said that reaching the semis of two tournaments for both teams was the only way to say that Glasgow and Edinburgh are big teams.

I stand by that statement, and with these signings it looks like the SRU are thinking that way, too.

In England there is a hope that a ‘marquee name’ can be accommodated in any amendments to the salary cap, while in France teams want a squad of marquee names. In Scotland it is about competition and longevity. Both pro sides need to be able to last the pace of a full season better. One cap-busting signing wouldn’t do that. Signing squad players will.

Rees is a like-for-like swap with Mike Blair, who is away. The rest of the signings, though, are not guaranteed starters. They are there not only to increase competition for squad places, but also to make the two sides much stronger than they are when the international players are away.

Yapp and Nel are much stronger than Edinburgh’s current back-up props and have experience of physical games. Ben Atiga has not played any Super Rugby for a while and comes in marked as a ‘workman’. Labelled as a centre/full-back, but with Scott and De Luca doing very well it is likely that pairing will be preserved. Atiga will step in whenever needed – perhaps like the ever willing Troy Nathan has done at Glasgow – but he will likely start less. He comes to the fore when the internationals are away. Dmitri Basilaia will do horrible work, but again Edinburgh’s back-row is versatile.

At Glasgow it is a great shame that Fusaro, probably the Warriors’ best player this season, could end up frozen out with Barclay remaining, Wilson sticking, Harley progressing as a 6 and the likes of Willie Ma’afu and Angus MacDonald coming in. It is a combative corps, though.

All of the names above will play when the 6 Nations is running. All of them will be more competitive options than EDL players and some of the 7s caps, because they have experience and they are almost all exclusively hardy players. Those youngster can then be used when it suits the coaches, rather than being thrown in out of necessity. The SRU have looked to solidify the foundations they have, and they have signed hefty and stocky enforcements.

Do not worry for the young Scots. Those already earmarked will be taken to tour. Other names have already been mentioned by Andy Robinson and feature in his thoughts. Yet, this is phase one. These foreign influences will bed in while more youth is promoted internationally. It is the beginning of a cycle and it has all been thought of from up high. Let’s see it through before we lament lost prospects.

Edinburgh and Glasgow must get stronger first.

Dundonian Alan has played rugby all over the world for various teams including Dundee High School, Heriot's and the Scottish Club International. Now writing from London he covers all issues international and unreported.

20 responses to this article

  1. Wood said:

    Agree with this although I think W P Nel will have no trouble displacing Geoff Cross given that he is being talked about as one of the top performers in this year’s Super Rugby and has just been called into the Springboks training squad.

  2. Rory Baldwin said:

    Interesting if he has been called up to the Springboks how this might affect his thinking on residency in future etc, or perhaps even tie him to SA.

  3. Angus said:

    Good article Alan and spot on the money I think. As I mentioned in an earlier thread – Teams win games but squads win championships.

    Being able to rotate players and cover for injuries and internationals is essential to any side looking for success while also being able to mentor younger players

  4. Donald Peddie said:

    The Boks wouldn’t cap WP just as he moves North?

    • Rory Baldwin said:

      Looking at that it’s a very loose “planning” camp with only players from a couple of the franchises.

  5. Alan Dymock said:

    I think we are getting worried about something that is largely irrelevant until 2015 at the earliest, anyway. Edinburgh and the SRU will be worried about him getting capped, but mainly because he may be entitled to more money as an international. At least for the Scottish players, a first cap tends to mean an automatic incremental increase in wages…

  6. EAM said:

    AD, apologies, as my comment is only loosely related to your original thread, but there is a connection in terms of ‘foreign aid’ over Scottish youngsters! I’m sure you were at or will have seen the highlights of the Melrose 7s, in the aftermath of which I’ve seen much written/blogged about two youngsters playing for Jed, the Young twins, Lewis and Gregor. By all accounts they measure up at 6’4″, weigh in at just over 14 stone, clearly have pace, an eye for a gap, and enough skills to play 7s well. They also appear to have done fairly well in the Jed XV in the league, both having bagged a hatful of tries. They look to be in their late teens/early 20s, and I am surprised that I have never seen them in any Scottish age-group sides – am I just partially sighted or are they simply late-developers? What chance that they will get spotted and offered academy/development contracts if they are good enough? Are they our future George North/Alex Cuthbert combo? Cheers

  7. Alan Dymock said:

    EAM, don’t worry, it’s a discussion worth having!
    I will admit my ignorance of the Young twins. I played Jed in Prem B this year, but wasn’t really looking to identify any potential in the opposition ranks. We won 21-8 and I only remember their number 8 standing out. It was one of those games. However, their names keep cropping up on the Scotsman threads and obviously they are making a big impact on the King of the 7s circuit.
    It will never be publicly said, but with the exception of out and out 7s players like our own Colin Gregor and Andrew Turnbull, the rest are 15s players being accomodated in case of injuries or used in the hope that they will make it into either Pro team.

    The selection process for young talent is one which comes down to taste. In the end the powers that be pick who they think is the best players or who they are aware of. However, I have often seen Stevie Gemmell on the touch line of Ayr games. I have often seen Edinburgh’s Strength and Conditioning coach Andy Boyd at Stirling games. Coaches that help with the Under 20s and other age grade teams are Simon Cross of Accies and John Dalziel of Melrose.

    I have been playing myself, so don’t know whom is watching which game. I couldn’t tell you how the ‘scouting’ network works behind the scenes, either. There are some people out watching. We will never know how they conclude who to promote from the club games. With the news that Michael Maltman is in line for a 7s contract, I will say, as a former team mate, that he is a physical athlete. They will just be training him regularly so as to step in for Edinburgh when needed. I don’t really remember him playing 7s, but it gets him on the books. He has great potential.

    • Iain said:

      Lewis and Gregor have been involved in the Scotland 7s extended squad this season and are supported by the institute of sport just to clear up what they are or arent involved in.

  8. Angus said:

    The word I have been hearing in OZ is that the SRU are already looking at Brenden McKibben of the Waratahs (born in Scotland) and Lachlan Mitchell of the Rebels (Scottish Mother I think it is)

    With the recent changes to who gets and how much the ARU contract top up players such as these who are solid Super rugby players but unlikely to get Wallaby caps will start to come on the market as their contracts expire.

    I believe both these lads come off contract at the end of this season.

    • Rory Baldwin said:

      McKibben is also a pretty handy goal-kicker as we saw at the weekend. Not sure whether ER will be in the market for another scrummie though given they have signed Rees – there was a lot of chat about McKibben but that died off then the Rees/Yapp announcement was made. Lachie Mitchell would be a solid signing, but I’d rather they snapped up a 2nd row like Dean Mumm (who just signed for Exeter).

  9. dropped not retired! said:

    EAM & AD

    On the Young bro’s, for me this is where the SRU have it all wrong in terms of development. These boys and others who have not been involved in any of the age group sides or on the “Pathway” are generally overlooked. Those who have been in them have had the investment, the SRU seem to have this mentality that because these players have had this opportunity that they have to stay with them. Anyone who hasn’t been on the “Pathway” is generally overlooked. It is only in recent seasons that the SRU accepted that Prem 1 players should be evaluated to see if they could make the progression into the pro ranks.
    This is where Sean Lineen’s remit should be starting, by identifying potential at the levels below the pro teams, then identifying potential below the premier teams to feed the system.

  10. Dave said:

    Dropped not retired!

    Agree that Lineen should be looking to unearth players from the club game. He had not a bad record of doing this with Jon Welsh being the best example. Hopefully he’ll have some more success in this area.

    AD, which club players do you think could step up to pro level? Also, I think I asked you this earlier in the season but what are the prospects of Fraser Brown getting a pro contract somewhere? Is he back to full fitness.

  11. I wonder if Lineen could work as a sort of “agent” for younger Scottish players by bringing them to the attention of English/French/Irish/Welsh teams?
    There’s the risk that they get snapped up through residency at a later date but that might be a risk worth taking?

  12. Cammy Ritchie said:

    On the subject of Nel, it was my understanding that his Grandfather was/is Scottish which would enable him to play straight away.

    I might be totally wrong on that.

    In general though, I’m happy to see the volume of international quality players come in. Can only help the youngsters if game time is correctly managed.

    • Rory Baldwin said:

      There seem to be varying opinions on this one, be nice if it was true (and he is any good!).

    • Angus said:

      Even if he did have Scottish ancestry that would become a moot point if he gets capped by the Boks in the meantime wouldn’t it?

    • Rory Baldwin said:

      But aye Cammy, if he did have a Scottish relative and was uncapped by the Boks then he would already qualify subject to paperwork etc and could in theory line-up against them in November if he has a stormer in the first couple of weeks of the season. Unlikely though!

    • Cammy Ritchie said:

      I was going to suggest getting him in against Australia!