Banking On Change

Recently a lot of Scottish rugby fans have been getting things off their chest. Unrest can happen when you lose assets. People want to know what is being done to recoup the loss of players, what the pro team plans are and how Scottish teams overcome their dramatic loss in Magners League status.

Answers are being drip fed into the public domain. Some don’t like it, and there is concern that a few more experienced players may do a runner.

So when I put it to former Scotland captain and British and Irish Lion Colin Deans that there must be a reason why players are leaving Scotland his answer was simple: “they need to.”

For Deans the answer is not so much that the players are forced to leave our shores, it is just that they are finally showing some ambition. “If I was playing today I would look to play outside Scotland. The likes of Munster, Leinster and Ospreys can beat our teams with their second string, but there are too few places with two pro teams.”

For the ‘Hawick Hooker’ it is better for players to challenge themselves abroad in the “big, big games” because they can learn from intensity and exposure. For him, without relegation, without a third team and with only 30-odd players able to play at international level, players can never test themselves.

“Take [Mark] Bennett. Full marks to the lad. He played one game in the Magners League and still decided it was better for him to join an academy.

He wants to go to France to a country where the coaching structures will be much better for youths. It is probably a better education for young professionals. More young players should take such a chance because Scottish rugby is too cosy.”

Admittedly passionate about Scottish rugby and never shy of a contentious issue Deans wonders whether people should be held to account more for the state of the game.

“We need change. We need new blood. Those at the top had a chance to turn things round and they haven’t.”

Change, it seems, is Scotland’s new buzz word. The SNP have swarmed to power, devouring some old Labour areas. There’s talk of an Independence referendum. ‘Sectarianism’ is breaking out in meetings and press conferences regularly and Scotland may even want to distance itself from the UK’s Eurovision entries in the future.

For our man, though, the change needs to happen at EH12 first.

He sees Bradley’s Edinburgh appointment as a breath of fresh air but reckons it may be time for Lineen to take his leave. He would also like Graham Lowe, a man with a high degree of power within Murrayfield, to be more vocal. He’s a quiet operator but perhaps in such an important role he should be increasingly public with his plans and vision.

Of course, when looking back into the issue of the future and youth development Deans sees structural faults. “I had to resign my official mentoring duties. I was asking questions about Fergus Thomson’s progress and the reasons he was dropped from the A team [against Irish Wolfhounds, 28th of January] but I had no point of call. Stevie Gemmell was ‘Head of Player Development’ but told me “that’s not me; I handle youth development.” Graham Lowe never replied to my emails.”

It is vitally important that Scotland develops youth, but for the former Scotland skipper it is something that should be easily set out, regulated and aimed specifically at bringing on Scottish youngsters, rather than relying on the services of over-priced imports. Such a mentoring scheme could work if the investment in youth is there and there are dedicated mentors like Deans, who still talks to Thomson regularly in an unofficial capacity. Maybe better youth structures would stop the player exodus.

The great shame is that such upheaval detracts from Scotland’s World Cup campaign.

Can Scotland perform in New Zealand? Deans chuckles. “What, in a Scottish country?!”

“Scotland will have huge support and we stand a chance if we play rugby. We’ve shown at Twickenham that England’s game plan isn’t perfect, and we should have beaten Argentina in 2007 if we’d played for more than the last 10 minutes. If we come through the short turnarounds and every physical confrontation as a squad we will impress.”

Impress, indeed. It is hard not to get carried along by Colin Deans’ enthusiasm, but he is right. Change is needed. Scotland needs as many Scots qualified players as possible, playing regularly, in order to compete. We also need a national plan publicised so that everyone can get behind it.

He suggests that at the moment neither pro team could reach a Heineken Cup final or compete in the Magners League without change.  I suggest we switch tact, ourselves. Let’s focus on Scotland for the next few months, and let Edinburgh and Glasgow enforce the changes that can make them a force again. Lowe may not be vocal, but I’m hoping that he and those at HQ are battling to bring on these Scottish youths.

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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.