A few months back, before this whole sordid World Cup thing started, I was at the Scotland team hotel to do some interviews alongside the rugby writers corps. After all of the official stuff, I tried to get as much free coffee as I could, being a student who cannot afford a Starbucks or a packet of Custard Creams myself.
Over the decanter I found myself talking to Kevin Ferrie of the Herald and Steve Scott of the Courier about the future of Sports Journalism and the nature of reporting rugby. Ferrie unsurprisingly, if anyone has met him, had some advice for me and the Blog; “Write as much as you can, have lots of opinions and have fun with it.”
I dawdled off after that interview, my head swimming with awkward quotes from Euan Murray, concepts of article structures and too much caffeine. Ferrie’s words stuck with me, though. Not because I was in need of a boot up the backside –this was the start of my one-man war with the website, covering everything whilst Rory and Al got hammered Down Under –but because it was a statement fit for purpose. A sort of ‘break-in-case-of-emergency’ piece of advice.
Yesterday I wrote about the surprising structure of Argentina’s as yet Pro team-less rugby. Before that I wrote about what some in the business think about our youth rugby. In the case of the latter there was never going to be anything controversial or radical said, despite how interesting and brilliant all of the interviewees were. In the case of the former it is important to hand-pick which Argentinean details are the significant one.
“…have lots of opinions…”
So if the next 10 years (which is how long it would realistically take to make Scotland a force in World Rugby again) were up to me, how would I play it?
Firstly, there needs to be a well advertised league structure for schools teams alongside the league structures for youth club rugby. They should be played at the same rate. The schools consistently reject the idea of combining the best school teams and club teams in a league, so that idea should be abandoned. However, when the Brewin Dolphin Scottish Schools Cup is being played, so should the Youth League Cup. For me, these should be done a bit earlier in the season, for the reason that the rest of the season can be dedicated to playing rep rugby, and other competitive forms of rugby (7s should probably be put onto the curriculum for Independent Schools, and if we are serious about improving skills then have summer touch for those not interested in cricket or athletics).
I don’t think you could expect U16s to do this, and notice I have said nothing about weights, but it could focus our players with the most potential.
Also, the reason I want the Cup competitions to coexist is that, if there is going to be no joint league pushed forward at an AGM, there should be an additional cup for the two finalists of the different cups, much like the Nacional de Clubes in Argentina, but for our juniors.
Having played in two Schools Cup finals I know the mentality of a lot of these private schools and many of the players would love to say that they were officially the best team in Scotland. The club guys would just love to have a crack at the private chaps.
Now in the comments section of the Argentinean piece ‘Angus’ suggested that 10 months of rugby was a huge ask for amateurs. My argument is, that is the reason the Argentine ‘amateurs’ can step into international rugby. If we are serious about bridging the gap between club and pro rugby more club guys should go through the experience of a long, arduous pro-like season. Also if we are serious about producing school kids that can play Internationally, then make their regular competition more exclusive and intense, then make rugby a full season for them rather than semesters. If we have the best kids playing in a tough league, then having several cracks at a final at Murrayfield, some against familiar opposition, some against unfamiliar opposition, then playing District rugby with and against those top players, then having age-grade training with a coach who is experienced coaching a team at the top club level then that kid would surely be less daunted by pro rugby. Especially if he has come through all of that process and proven himself good enough.
This would mean that the academy managers and age-grade coaches, at all levels, would have to be people with Prem1 experience at least. For the Under 20s it really should be coached by someone who has coached in the pro game. Ideally the head coaches should also have no club affiliation either, to ensure there is no bias in selections. This is not completely necessary, though.
This brings up questions of coaching. Are all of our coaches good enough? We have set levels of certificate through the Union. Henry Edwards of the SRU runs the rule over coach accreditation. The coaches reach a certain level and then they can coach anyone.
I have an issue with the concept that a coach can technically cover back play and scrummaging with the right accreditation- it shows a disrespect for specific skills, in my eyes. However, this is not the point I am after. Again, if every development was in my head, I would have one additional interview/test for any coach that intends to be an age-grade or district coach. This would be exclusive accreditation, not any coach can get this, and it would ensure that only the best and most experienced could work with the future of Scottish rugby.
The test? Take them to a Tuesday night training session at a Prem1 club and let them take most of the drills. If they did a good job and had relevant team coaching experience then they would be worthy of a chance to coach the kids. They need to be stringently screened. After all, it is more important to coach, say, our U17s than it is to coach the Scotland A squad. In my eyes, at least.
Of course then we come to club rugby. As part of my discourse with posters after the Lessons from South America piece I ended up considering how the Pumas did it. 10 months of hard work, and they were deemed good enough to play the All Blacks. We certainly need that professional feel to our rugby, and we have the platform. But it can still be made more exclusive.
We need the District championship back (again, in my head). We need an intense competition, perhaps one round running before the Club International to aid with selection for it, but also another round after. Have the final of it after 2 rounds at Murrayfield… or Hampden (too off the wall?!) and then see if the quality of play is intense enough. This may run over the Cup, but the competition has certainly lost some muster in recent years and national performance is more important. The Bowl and Shield competitions could still run.
This could indeed create some problems for our current set up. The B&I Cup is presently contested by Ayr, Melrose and Currie. Last year only Ayr progressed from the groups and then lost. Could it be better for Scotland if we pushed to have four teams next year and made them the Districts?
Kenny Murray of Ayr, Ally Donaldson of Currie and Craig Chalmers of Melrose all already coach in the competition. Murray has worked with age-grade teams before and both of the others were touted last season as contemporaries able to step up into pro rugby. This would be a chance for all three to show their credentials as coaches of a West/Glasgow, Edinburgh and South team, respectively. Caley could be coached by Ian Rankin of Dundee High, formerly of the short lived Caledonia pro side, Edinburgh and Scotland A. He is currently the team manager of the Club International, with Donaldson as head coach.
Obviously it would be a nightmare to have all of these men involved in CI squad selection halfway through this process; particularly with the chance some may blindly push their own players. However, selection politics will always be an issue with rep teams and a head coach, a manager, an independent additional forwards/backs coach and A.N. Other well respected selector could do the job.
On top of this Prem1, and its committee, would need their own marketing team. Adverts, deals, coverage, independent website, Twitter, Facebook, the lot. Any created District sides would need something similar and the CI could do with something along the same lines. They would all need one or many big sponsor(s). Perhaps they would all have the same marketing team, free from the yoke of the SRU, of course.
Anyway, these are just some thoughts I’ve had. Like in Argentina it cannot hurt to have a more professional set up with more scope to take a step up in standard. Feel free to leave your thoughts.
Mr. Whiskers, meet the pigeons…