Arrested Development

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’.

Think again.

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?

** By the way, Scotsman, next time Stuart Bathgate takes an article like this and turns it into something like this I would like to be consulted! Cheers.

My next article will be a positive one, I promise!

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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.

9 comments on “Arrested Development

  1. Ex academy player on

    Fair point, do you think district championship including exiles would help at under 20 level. All players could be seen and a player won’t be selected just because his coach put in a good word.

  2. Ex-Under 20 on

    Peter Wright and Chalmers show an interest into the U20’s as it is a perfect excuse to poach up and coming talent and pass it off as there own. Indeed they are good coaches and pass on good information, but like many other coaches they have there favorites, Exiles are treated as second best, yet they make up a large chunk of the squad and as soon as someone is not selected they pretend that they never exsisted. Another reason that they enjoy being a part of the U20 is most definally the ability to get away from the wife and kids, get put up in hotels around the world and get to party with the lads win or lose and get treated like kings.

    The approach to the World Cup is never to compete, but just not to lose so many games to not being invited the following year, this almost seems to of spread to the 1st team until the Robinson rivival.

    And with Begg leaving is a great piece of business, every bit of organisation was met with a cock up. When I ever got travel expenses they would get them fair enough, but overcharged the SRU by a vast amount (and example being train tickets from Leeds which would cost £40 would be bought for £108 instead, no wonder the SRU is in debt).

    Players are getting left behind and money is getting squandered…

  3. Edinburgh Joe (Previously a borderer) on

    Oh mi god don’t get me started on the age grade stuff and development of youngsters. Heard that Grant Runciman had another great game on Saturday against Hawks – Two fingers up to Wright and the age grade system in the nicest possible way!!

    Good youngsters should be playing week in week out , if good enough to be selected on merit, for a Prem one club. It would be the charge of their Prem one coach to nurture them. They would learn how to tough out games even when they are dead on their feet and learn what it means to tackle for the team and the jersey- bodies on the line and all that. All this molly coddling in academies is making them soft .
    Along with this the SRU could keep an eye from a distance and give support in their strength and conditioning / diet etc if the Prem one coach felt it was required. Look at Lee Jones from Selkirk – through the ranks with his club and the transition to pro has been smoother than many or those who have come through the academy system. James Fleming looks as though he may be following the same route.

  4. A.D. on

    The Under-20s have had their own say here- http://sport.scotsman.com/rugby/Under20s-Peter-Wright-reveals-39experiment39.6730868.jp .

    So basically it is admitted that they will continue to mix and match their team. However, is the SRU always going to say ‘we are playing catch-up’? Does this mean we’re playing catch-up from birth? It would probably suit the SRU for us to think this so there are not calls for more investment in youth systems but I refuse to believe that there is such a HUGE difference between our players at the age of, say, 16/17, with those in England or France. There certainly shouldn’t be!

    So where does it all go wrong? That is the SRU’s problem, unfortunately…

    As a fan, though, I will continue to register my dismay at endemic pessimism… “The most important thing for us is not to be relegated out of the top 12 in the World Cup …” Is this also the plan from as early as the Union get the kids?

    I actually think Wright is a good coach and I’ve heard good things about Cross but they seem to be spread too thin. If we are aiming low then this must be reflected in the SRU’s yearly coaching plans and plans for the generations underneath. When do we step in in a players development to maybe work on winning/improvement? (just read the comments at the bottom of the Scotsman article.)

  5. Kev on

    The U20s are the future of Scotland. They need full time coaches who are watching them amd discussing strengths/weaknesses etc with their club coaches. There is no way our u20 coaches can cope with coaching P1/P2 teams and develop these players. If George Hunter can’t get a game for Hawks in P1 how can he play at this level. Should Hawks farm him out??? (Sorry George I’m using you as an example)…Is Simon Cross’s focus on Edinburgh Accies promotion or the Scots U20’s (again not trying to pick on Cross).

    Peter and Simon are good coaches but there are too many conflicts/hurdles in the way for them to bring the 3rd (and maybe most important Scottish team) to the levels required.

  6. centralpass on

    Sounds like the selection process really needs a shake-up. Have heard few times that if you want to play at this level you had better make sure you play for the right club! This is surely not the way to pick a national youth team! Agree with comments that if players are not regularly playing for their club at prem 1 level then how can they possibly be able to be up to standard.

  7. BZ (ex age grade dad) on

    You should try being a parent of one of these lads! I’m not going to comment on the selection process – coaches / selectors need to stand or fall by their own merits and results.

    I will say though that form the outside the current u20 set up looks like a bit of a guddle. The “swinging door” effect and one or two eye brow raising selection decisions have to question the professionalism of the current management team.

    The underlying problem at least at the elite level is the complete absence of an ambitious, coherant and performance led development plan. The problem starts at u17. Can anyone explain to me why we take part in the second tier competition against England, Wales u16a sides? Is that still the case? And it seems to go on from there.

    Surely by the time the players are considered for u20 there should be an absolute minimum playing standard of prem 1 or equivelant elsewhere. You only have to look at what Ayr have done to develop the young talent in their area to see how it could work elsewhere. The SRU could insist that the best young players concentrate in clubs seriously committed to player development. Controversial I know but we need somehow to concentrate our best talent and make sure none of them fall by the wayside.

  8. ashdeacon5 on

    Have seen lots of good comments but it seems to me to be summed up in two issues
    1. coaches not being neutral in selection of the best players, and
    2. players not playing regularly for their clubs, the England boys play for their prem teams, why cant ours??
    so the answer is appoint a non-Prem 1/2 coach for the U20’s and get the boys out every Saturday to play for their clubs.

  9. christine m.fraser on

    my son has played for boroughmuir premier team for 2 years ,and has played every sat .and is very committed to his rugby in between doing a degree at uni ,no time to work.he is in the under 20 s squad .but only got picked to play last friday,and when came on ,did an excellent job.all these players have been in the gym at least 3 x a week,since last year,i think a lot of it is ,if youre face fits,and no he is not related to any coaches,he got there by his own merit.they need to have more training games before the six nations ,so that they gel as a team.

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