While we round up the various Six Nations bits, here’s a piece from a new writer David regarding one of the unheralded success stories in Scottish rugby. Over to David:You may have noticed, Scottish rugby seems to be going through one of its regular slumps.
The national team may have avoided the wooden spoon but the Six Nations have left Scotland looking a lot less assured than they did before the tournament. Those wins in Argentina last summer and against South Africa feel a long time ago.
Meanwhile, the pro sides aren’t faring any better, sitting tenth and eleventh in the table. Or to put it another way, second and third bottom.
The other Scotland sides aren’t doing too well either. The Under 20s have struggled, scoring just twenty three points and suffering a whitewash in their Six Nations and the Scottish Women’s side have suffered heavy defeats.
However, there has been one bright light and it has come in the oft forgotten world of club rugby. Ayr Rugby Club has had its fair share of success in the past few years, winning Premiership 1 and the Scottish Cup. However, this season’s achievement of reaching the quarter finals of the British and Irish Cup, in my view surpasses both of these triumphs.
Their run included wins over Llandovery, Birmingham and Solihull Bees and Doncaster Knights before losing 29 – 19 away to Bristol in the quarter finals. To put that into perspective all the teams that they beat were professional outfits and Bristol were very recently a Guinness Premiership team and are in the play offs of the English Championship, looking for promotion back to the top tier.
It would be interesting to see how much different the score would be if it was Glasgow or Edinburgh taking on Bristol. Ayr have built their game around such redoubtable figures as inspirational and intimidating captain Damien Kelly and New Zealand born centre Mark Stewart. However, alongside the experienced, coach Kenny Murray has brought in talented youngsters such as Scotland Under 20s centre Mark Bennett and try scorer against Bristol Robbie Fergusson.
Considering that Ayr are a team of amateurs, the players and indeed the coaches had to give up work commitments to make the long trip to Bristol, this cup run is fairly remarkable. Which begs the question – why put so much of the focus on failing pro sides when there is so much potential in the club game?
Talented youngsters such as the afore mentioned Bennett and Fergusson are likely to attract the attention of the pro sides but how many times have we seen promising youngsters disappearing into the pro set up and not playing much rugby?
Wouldn’t they be better playing with our top clubs which, as Ayr’s British and Irish Cup run has proved, are of a good standard? In fact, maybe it would be better to simply pull the plug on the pro sides and put the money back into the club game?
The man who last captained Scotland to a win at Twickenham, Jim Aitken certainly thinks so.
“The grassroots have been neglected,” he said. “People thought they could make do with one or two professional sides and just pick who they thought could be able to fit into these sides and make a better Scotland team.
“They neglected the potential talent that comes through the old system from clubs to districts and into the Scottish team. They have managed to develop a ‘them and us’ attitude, whereby the international set-up is completely detached from the grassroots set up.”
Would it be so ridiculous an idea, putting the focus back on the club game?
That way, established professionals can go and play with teams elsewhere in Europe with a half decent chance of winning the odd match and there is a stronger club game in Scotland to develop potential stars. Ayr have shown that success is possible but the current travails of the Scotland team and the professional sides suggest that something needs to change.
The club game has been neglected for too long in favour of something that has yet to show much success. Why not change something?
We’re losing everything else anyway.