It is always important to get the facts out of the way first:
Some Scotland 7s players were offered two year contracts in the summer; 7s will be part of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games.
All of this has to be set forth before it can be suggested that anything should change. However, some fans are asking with more regularity, “Why do Scotland have a full-time 7s squad and only two pro teams?”
If I were to ring in with my own opinion I would say that a third pro side is a bridge too far for Scotland right now, particularly as two teams are trying to build on their meagre foundations and not only consolidate, but build on their good seasons. Adding another team which needs 35 players at least would undoubtedly dilute these teams. There just aren’t enough players in Scotland who could cope with pro rugby.
This being said, there must be questions asked of where the SRU are investing money.
No sources have yielded a figure for how much the 7s squad costs the SRU, but it is a fact that the IRB pay for all flights and accommodation when the team are away. So if running costs of things like feeding, clothing and strapping players are taken out the only sizeable overhead for the 7s is staffing the team and the backroom.
It is harsh to say a full-time 7s team has been a failure after one year, purely because they have failed to make a Cup quarter final all season. It is also irrelevant to say that the experiment will be axed, because some players are under 7s contract for another year and because the Scottish government will demand decent representation at the Commonwealth games.
However, when these pressures are forgotten it must be discussed whether Scotland would be better placed spending the 7s money elsewhere.
7s is fantastic entertainment and Scotland is the cradle of the game. It was invented in Melrose, so the story goes. Yet, Irish rugby, at club level at least, is very strong and they have no 7s side on the IRB circuit. They divert that money into their provinces or for the needs of the national 15s side.
Should Scotland do the same?
My suggestion would not be to use redistributed money for a third pro-side –that would cost more than the 7s outlay and it would require many more players –but, rather use that cash to invest into coach development and to give young, learning players more attention. It is so often the case that our worst coaches are sent to the kids and then, as they learn, they work with older subjects. Let’s promote better coaches to junior sections and raise the standards of coaching across the country. That would mean more players overall, rather than catching those of a certain age.
Of course it could be argued that such extra funds could be freed up elsewhere. Only a madman would suggest taking money away from age-grade sides, but perhaps the more lucid revellers would pose questions about the Club International side.
What I would say is that many believe the SCI to be the best value side out of HQ, with genuine expectations of winning games, only one away fixture and many costs already being covered by other travelling Scotland sides and sponsors. The 7s have many more fixtures, full-time staff and generally lower expectations.
It is one that tears at you. It is a national side and one you should support. It is a representation of the game we invented. Nevertheless, once the Commonwealth Games are over will there be the need for the team? The game of 7s keeps expanding and despite recently becoming more professional in this country there is a danger of the team being left behind. Could the powers that be follow the Irish model and avoid looking like stragglers? They could still keep the event at Scotstoun, after all, without Scotland competing…
This is one I have no definitive answer for. It is more of a debate starter. I imagine there will be some strong opinions either way.
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.