Scotland’s World Cup may be over but the ramifications of the Scottish Rugby Union’s actions in the build up to the game against Japan look set to rumble on. On Monday Rugby World Cup tournament director, Alan Gilpin, announced that the SRU’s conduct would be referred to the independent disputes committee. Gilpin specifically referred to the SRU’s “comments and behaviours” and went on to say that it would be inappropriate to comment further.
The SRU issued its own statement on it’s website with an unnamed spokesperson saying
“Scottish Rugby confirms that it has received a notice of complaint from Rugby World Cup Ltd. Scottish Rugby is querying whether the matter is an appropriate one for the bringing of Misconduct charges”.
“If Misconduct proceedings are to proceed, Scottish Rugby looks forward to receiving a fair hearing in this matter. No further comment would be appropriate at this time.”
The Offside Line have put together an article detailing all the public comments made by the SRU and whilst Mark Dodson made it clear that the SRU had consulted a QC no specific threat of legal action was ever made. The QC concerned has spoken to the press and whilst he made no specific threats, he has since retweeted articles suggesting the SRU may resort to such a course of action.
We have no details of the allegations being levelled at the SRU. It is hard to see what action might be taken given the public comments made but we do not know what discussions were had in private nor how the SRU conducted itself in those discussions. Perhaps there was a bun fight at the buffet? Perhaps the SRU delegation ate the nice cakes that had been left out for World Rugby Chairman, Bill Beaumont? We will find out soon enough.
There is no doubt however, that the SRU could have handled the situation better. Mark Dodson and co were right to put pressure on World Rugby and tournament organisers to get the game played. Obtaining legal advice was entirely prudent in the circumstances. However whatever crisis communications plan was put in place by the SRU lacked a clear focus and from the moment the letters “QC” left Mark Dodson’s lips the story became about the threat of legal action and all statements about thoughts being with people of Japan and maintaining integrity of the tournament were lost in the resulting furore.
Such a bullish approach may work at home in forcing clubs and individuals to bend to the SRU’s will. But this is the big leagues and the SRU are guilty of failing to read the room and find themselves increasingly placed front and centre as the tier 1 fall guy.
There is a narrative building in the rugby press outside of Scotland that the SRU are the only thing standing in the way of reform because they fear the prospect of relegation. That is unlikely to have come from thin air and is likely the result of backroom briefings from a source close to World Rugby or another Union with an agenda.
The result is that Scotland and the SRU are continually being put forward as the reason why World Rugby’s Nations League fell flat on its face, despite deep reservations held by other more powerful Unions and players associations. Scotland are also the country constantly used as an example of the need to reform regulation 8 residency and ancestry qualification despite every other tier 1 nation making similar use of the same regulations. All of this could be changed in an instant, we are told, if only if it wasn’t for those pesky Scots.
That’s a nice tier 1 status, Scotland are told; it would be a shame if anything happened to it.
Over on the BBC, Tom English reported that Alan Gilpin had spent an hour or so before the match against Japan working the press room, spending time mostly with those working for English newspapers. Gilpin reportedly walked past the area containing Scottish journalists without any word at all.
It’s a telling snub that gives a real indication of Scotland’s place in World Rugby. The opinion of the Scottish rugby press carries no real weight outside of Scotland and the SRU increasingly finds itself isolated, trapped between other tier 1 Unions laying the blame for all World Rugby’s failings at their door and tier 2 nations pushing for a place at the big table.
The SRU’s decision to vote in favour of France’s bid to host the 2023 World Cup instead of Ireland’s bid did them no favours over the Irish Sea. The decision itself was sound. The French bid was financially sound and one of Ireland’s proposed stadiums didn’t even have planning permission at the time.
However, the Irish have long memories and a canny ability to hold a grudge until the end times. For some, Gregor Townsend has a black mark against his name because he made an allegation that Peter Clohessy used racist language during a 2002 game between Castres and Munster which saw Clohessy cited and facing a ban. The charge was later dropped, largely because it was seen as a tit-for-tat citing after Clohessy had been bitten.
There are others who will never forgive or forget Glasgow Warriors for Connor Murray’s standing leg-gate.
The SRU now need to go on an all-out PR charm offensive publicly and privately and need a canny strategy taking account of everything coming their way. They need to find some friends, and fast, because the outcome of disciplinary action could see Scotland docked four match points in the absolute worst case scenario.
Were that to be applied retrospectively Scotland would be required to qualify for the next World Cup. Scotland undoubtedly have the ability to easily do so but it would put a huge strain on the player pool. It would also seriously jeopardise the SRU’s ability to host big money-making Autumn Tests and to fulfil a promised summer tour of New Zealand under the revised international calendar. Were those points docked for the 2023 tournament then Scotland would have a mountain to climb and they’d likely be consigned to the international wilderness for the next decade.
But Scotland do hold some cards. The SRU own one sixth of the Six Nations. That at least affords them some power, but only so much. They might find they catch more flies with honey than vinegar and some schmoozing and damage limitation work with a clear focus on key messages and an end result needs to start in earnest.
Much like the national team itself the question may be asked – are the current management structure up to doing that though?