The Chain Reaction

Apparently there is an African proverb, “Only a fool tests the depth of the water with both feet.” In our case, though, Andy Robinson is being cautious to the extent of bringing out a dinghy.

While most are lauding the claim of our coach to knowing 25 of his 30 squad members for the trip Down Under I am a bit more sceptical. It is obvious to me that Robinson is aware of weaknesses in his side, but doesn’t know which of his fringe candidates are the best men to take with him. It is an issue of squad depth.

As previously mentioned in our squad predictions weeks ago the Scotland forward pack practically picks itself while the backline has a rotation system that Robinson and Townsend can use. The aforementioned 25 could probably be rattled off by you or me in a matter of minutes.

So when Robinson says he doesn’t know whether to take 4 or 5 props to New Zealand it is window dressing, because with only 6 to choose from it is most likely that either Ryan Grant will miss out or it could be Ryan Grant and Alasdair Dickinson. The issue, then, isn’t with tactics and the breakdown of how many forwards and how many backs we take because it is really an issue of who we need and who Robinson is willing to risk throwing in.

Would Robinson risk a Denton, Harley, Cuthbert or even a De Luca?

In fact when we look outside of the 39 players in the inflated squad there are few else that could have been involved. At a push we could say that King and Thompson could have come from Edinburgh, Welsh from Glasgow and Taylor and Hogg from down South but there are few candidates outside of these names that could come in. We just don’t have the numbers.

The problem is with the rung on the ladder below the pro scene. Youngsters can be signed from age grade teams and 7s showings but the strobile nature of Scottish rugby means squad places are obscenely limited.

If we forget the player drain because of more opportunities abroad and we look at the players being cherry picked out of club rugby then some other concerns emerge.

At the moment we have a situation that could have led to clubs monopolising players: the British & Irish Cup. Thankfully it never happened, but the worry was that as soon as 3 teams played against pro sides regularly all the ambitious players would swarm at those clubs. Of course one thing wasn’t taken into consideration.

Money.

The ambitious club players, some of them, are already being paid to play at their level. The big clubs can’t afford to pay everyone well, even the wealthier ones. Watson’s tried it a few years ago and it wasn’t sustainable. Ayr and Currie allegedly take on players for money, but they do not have inflated squads and tend to neglect the performance of their 2nd XV in favour of a highly competitive 1st XV.

This is an aside, though, as the point I am labouring to make is one about player migration. A lot of players stay put, now. Money and familiarity hold the good ones. So when the league restructures to have 10 teams at the top all competing for B&I Cup places and a trophy they will all be trying to outdo each other.

The knock on effect of shortening the top league to 10 is that the league will be more exclusive and therefore more attractive to sponsors, but also the top 10 individually will be more attractive to sponsors, too. Budgets at the top could increase. Player numbers could go up at these teams. These teams could also invest more, however if all are paying players and the teams in the division below pay players to try and get promoted it is unlikely that B&I Cup teams will see a huge influx.

Each factor contributes to another. The fear for me is that if these teams do not drastically improve (which on one hand would benefit pro rugby, but on the other would make Prem 1 rugby a 3 horse race) then the pro sides have to keep picking from the same shallow pool of players.

Foreign arrivals don’t help, but the SRU are now looking to influence club sides to sign players that are Scots qualified. Could there be a situation in a few years time where all promising players with ambition are told they must play in the B&I Cup? Maybe…

For now we have to see how things pan out. The player pool is of 39 World Cup hopefuls just now, but the pool for each pro team is only 32-36. By RWC 2015 could there be enough pro standard players to pick from? It all depends on Prem 1’s influence on the Pro12’s influence on the Scotland National Team.

I’m off to buy a dinghy.

Tags: ,

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.

13 comments on “The Chain Reaction

  1. niall on

    the comment about Ayr and Currie’s second XVs is so true, the season past our seconds came close to beating Ayr at Milbrae (if not for some rather dubious refereeing) and thumped Currie at Maleny the season before. Then there’s the whole thing with Hawick not even having a seconds and pulling out the Reserve League the week before it was due to start!

    You would expect that a club doing well at First team level would spur the second and (to an extent) lower XVs on to greater things. 09/10 when Alan Glens won Nat 3, their seconds were a cut above the rest in Reserve West 3, purely because their firsts were challenging for the league and these players knew that they could force their way into the squad. Just doesn’t seem to be the same desire at the larger clubs.

  2. Ray on

    Sorry Alan but reducing the size of P1 and making it more exclusive does not in any way make it more attractive to potential sponsors. What would make it more attractive is bigger crowds at games. This would also make P1 clubs wealthier. The formula for a true, sustainable semi pro league at P1 level is a simple one – P1 clubs must attract bigger crowds > bigger crowds means more money at the gate and over the bar > bigger crowds equals more attractive proposition for potential sponsors. P1 clubs must increase revenues through their own efforts, their future success and ability to progress is entirely in their own hands. There is no commercial sense being applied to any of the league restructuring nonsense that is going on. One sure fire way to increase commercial value which has been proven abroad is the introduction of play offs to decide league champions. Not playing rugby in the depths of winter is another, sure fire way to increase crowds. If you’re going to make changes, make changes that make sense for the good of the game – in a commercial sense, not changes which allegedly help clubs from the nth division to gain promotion faster, what a load of tosh!

    Cheers

  3. A.D. on

    Ray,
    If you read my previous posts you’ll see I believe that playoffs are the only way forward. I also believe that sponsorship woulbe be more attractive than before- this in no way guarantees that people will be falling over to invest. “Look at this competition that is more exclusive and of a slightly higher standard because the weeker teams are gone.
    Is it: a better product, now?
    Yes.
    Will you invest?
    No. But I’m more likely now than I was two years ago.”

    There is no commercial sense in any of Scottish rugby, if we are brutally honest.

  4. Ray on

    Sponsors are looking for a return on their money which means getting their brand/product in front of as many people as possible, they couldn’t care less about the quality of the rugby, it doesn’t even come in to the equation. If anything, a smaller league will mean shorter season and thus less coverage. You could argue that the Spanish League is of superior quality to the English Premiership (football) but the English League attracts much higher levels of sponsorship. Why? Because more people watch it.

    You’re right on everything else though.

    My worry is that the SRU decide that it’s a good idea to start throwing money at P1 clubs instead of working toward a third pro side, however much of a pipe dream as that may seem at present.

    Cheers Alan

  5. A.D. on

    I do agree that there is not enough people watching club rugby and, more worryingly, taking part.
    More people taking part would probably get more people to watch rugby, and more people could mean more sponsorship (another chain) but how do you get people interested?!
    Either huge scandal, or a miracle.
    I will kick my nationwide campaign into gear when either A) Geoff Cross has a sordid affair with a royal or B) Scotland win the World Cup.
    Fingers crossed…

  6. Ray on

    For me, on a Saturday, club’s have relied too heavily on the ongoing support of their older members who are largely from the amateur era when rugby was undeniably more popular at the top level and interest in the sport, was greater. Unfortunately, Scottish clubs have not done enough to promote themselves to the next generation as a sport both to play and to watch. Rugby should be a place that fathers take their sons on a Saturday afternoon but unfortunately we’re losing out to other, well marketed visitor attractions. We’ve got to get better at marketing ourselves, it’s as simple as that.

    It is interesting that you mentioned that the Watsonians approach of a few years ago. I guarantee you that if they had taken some of that same money that they paid to those players at the time and invested it instead into a marketing budget, they would now be in a much better position with bigger crowds and players that they could afford to pay.

    Look at what College sports in the USA have achieved over the past century. Their amateur sportsmen now play in front of tens of thousands of people. That is the business model we need to replicate.

  7. A.D. on

    Those Collegiate Teams all have backing from huge families tied to the college as well as sponsorship. Sponsors also tend to sponsor individual players now, too (who wouldn’t want a share in a young LeBron James?!).
    Millionaires and Billionaires don’t have interest in our Uni’s anyway (and Scottish Uni rugby is nowhere near the standard of Prem 1 or 2), let alone bankrolling an entire club, rather than providing a little ‘boot money’. You’re right, there: That money could be put to long-term use, but we all love a quick solution.

    Sponsorship we have spoken about.

    The pro-teams need a better marketing strategy. Convert folk and target youth, rather than established rugby fans. Sending a player once a year for half an hour and a putting up a few A4 posters are not gonna cut it as a marketing strategy…

    And the SRU? Let’s not rely on the ‘passion’ and ‘patriotism’ of the ‘faithful’. Scottish International rugby isn’t sexy- you need to get MORE people interested. Again, a few billboards and adverts in rugby mags (which have minimal markets, anyway) are not gonna get Murrayfield full. Ad’s on STV?! Let’s try BBC Scotland- tv and radio- and Sky Sports?! Local papers?! Deals in Lad’s mags?!
    Outside the box thinking? Ever?

  8. Ray on

    I didn’t mean that the business model of US collegiate sports should be replicated in our universities but rather in our club sides which play the same role in developing players for our professional teams. The reference was purely to indicate that paying players is not a prerequisite for commercial success. The huge sponsorship, tv revenues etc. are as a result of their popularity, not the other way round.

    If P1 crowds could average in the high 3 figures, we’d have made a huge stride forward and it would change the complexion of our sport entirely. This is not an achievable goal.

  9. Ray on

    And yes, the marketing strategy of the pro game is inexcusably inept but I believe Sir Moir will have figured that out.

  10. A.D. on

    I totally agree. I was merely playing Devil’s advocate. However, due to the inception and conception of Pro rugby in Scotland the pro sides are caught between one port of call and a lack of viable investors to take to HQ.
    Club rugby files in behind, accordingly. I am just away to post something about how this problem isn’t just a Scottish one, though…

Comments are closed.