As Scotland braces itself for the trip to ‘Rugby HQ’ it is perhaps a time to look to the future before we all head down to the fallout shelter at the foot of the garden. You know, the one with no TV, a pile of national newspapers outside it and the Jonno-proof door…
It could hardly be said that Scottish rugby is in rude health. Glasgow are only spared the foot of the table by an Italian team with no wins while Edinburgh, with their 7th defeat in a row, are only one place better off than their west coast counterparts. Both teams have had abysmal campaigns.
When talking about the future I am not referring to this situation, though.
I am also not referring to the growing fear within Scottish rugby that the pro teams are becoming an expensive extravagance that Murrayfield could do without. As much as I’d like to confirm or deny that rumours that McKie is looking to offload the professional sides to any investors or even just step away from our only 2 teams I don’t have any SRU moles or a knowledge of the true nature of the SRU’s debt.
So all I can focus on, then, is the next generation of players coming through. If I work with the assumption that both pro sides will be around for the foreseeable future and that their squads will be diminished at the same time as bringing in more youngsters to supplement the squad then it must follow that we have a plan in place for the ‘new generation’.
The state of the Scotland Under-20s side could be described as ‘turmoil’. The set-up has a swinging-door selection policy and a management structure that belies the wealth of talents available to the team.
Firstly, the team manager Colin Begg has quit halfway through a 6 nations campaign (this position is, by the way, full time and salaried by the SRU). If a whole year is planned around this competition and a World Cup then surely it is better for the development of the squad to be handled at all stages off the pitch? Don’t worry I’m sure there is a long term plan in place… *cough*…
This brings us to the selection policy of our under-20s squad. Selection meetings are held where head coach Peter Wright talks with Simon Cross of Edinburgh Accies and Bryan Easson and they all decide what shape the squad should take. Allegedly, though, the input is roundly from Wright but this must be cleared and maybe even changed by Graham Lowe and Stevie Gemmel before it can be put in place. Could such bureaucracy and varying input from men who don’t watch all training and games ever be a good thing?
The result of such selection meetings is that there have been three stand-offs in the last three games, a flanker (Grant Runciman) being played at number 8 with little to no experience there and then being dropped for the next game and full back Glenn Bryce coming into the squad, starting a game at 15 and then dropping out of the squad completely. Hardly the selections of a team with a set plan.
The reason I point out such things is that I don’t believe the Under-20s management acknowledge their huge responsibility.
In the era of professionalism, regardless of how long it lasts in Scotland, the National Team is the priority. They must be competitive. This means that wave after wave of new generations must be, whether we like it or not, big, physical men by the age of 19 with a complete skill set. If they don’t have complete skill sets then it is the role of the SRU to try to and bring those skills on through training in academies and through regular meetings with coaches.
By 19 a young man isn’t looked after by a school or a club where every aspect of their game is seen regularly. Sure a young man has personal responsibility, but he can’t teach himself what he doesn’t know! The step towards professional ability and professional attributes must be aided by a professional set-up.
So when the argument comes forward that the coaches can only work with the players they have and all they can do is imprint a game plan and put names on a sheet then this ignores the responsibility of a junior national coach. Even selecting those that are attached to Edinburgh and Glasgow, throwing them in and then being disappointed if they don’t perform is not enough. The coaches at those pro sides don’t have a responsibility to work on developing individuals, they are there to get results. It therefore comes back to those SRU representatives who specialise in the youth teams.
Can a man be a Premier One representative at the Scottish Rugby Council, a salaried Head Coach of a Premier One team, do regular radio commentary as well as coaching the Scotland Under-20s, developing players and monitoring every game such young men play? If he can then he is a phenomenally talented man and will be in charge of a pro team sooner rather than later.
In the meantime everyone needs to pull in the same direction even if we keep losing. From the current crop of Under-20s there will be some who sign on full time with Glasgow or Edinburgh. Perhaps we should try as hard as we can to at least give them some stability on their path to professionalism?
The reason this grates so much is that, to cite an example, more than 3 coaches at the big public schools have claimed to me that the ability and physicality of some of the players at school level is incomparable to those even a few years ago. Improvement is happening at a younger age with new coaching techniques and more professional attitudes. Would it be a crime to expect as much the older they get?
My next article will be a positive one, I promise!