Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Barclay & Paterson: Former captains discuss state of the nation

(c) of Premier Sports used with permission

With this weekend’s 1872 Cup fixture cancelled due to a mini-outbreak of Covid-19 (thanks, Exeter) former Scotland captains John Barclay and Chris Paterson were looking at the bigger picture during a conference call this week arranged by Pro14 broadcasters Premier Sports.

Monday 21st  December marked the anniversary of Paterson’s international retirement and the record points scorer feels that the national side has improved since he hung up his boots.

“I would say that – without thinking too deep about it – is that the depth of the squad is far better. I think we’re more competitive in all areas of the field really.

I think we’re more consistent as well, in all honesty. The Scotland team now have the ability and have won big games and been more consistently competitive than in my era.

There was periods in my career where we did win big games; England, France, Australia, South Africa, but we didn’t have the depth or consistency to back it up and I think that Scotland are getting more towards being able to do that because of the depth of personnel and the understanding of what it takes.

We had the “high highs” but there’s a wee bit more consistency in depth of player base now that allows Scotland to hopefully build well for the future.”

With Covid-19 taking a large chunk out of the SRU’s funding for next year, Barclay took a pragmatic view of the talent drain which has seen Adam Hastings confirm a move to Gloucester for season 21/22, and rumours that the likes of Duhan van der Merwe and Hamish Watson are soon to follow him out of Scotland.

““If the fans are worried then I fully understand that. I had a similar thing in Wales where we were one of the lowest funded teams. Due to some shrewd recruitment and academy stars coming through we ended up with quite a handy team. But bit by bit the bigger teams started to pick these guys off. That’s the economics of the situation.

“You can’t blame guys for wanting to go if they’ve been offered more money and want to experience different challenges. The guys who have left Scottish clubs have gone to some quality teams and played some great rugby.

“I’m concerned. I won’t be if the guys are replaced, but I have to say so far Glasgow haven’t replaced some of their stars who have gone on to do great things. There’s hope rather than expectation for Glasgow now given the landscape with Covid and the financial implications.”

One of the potential replacements mentioned for Hastings would be another Warrior returning to the Scotstoun scene in Duncan Weir.

“I know Duncan was disappointed to leave Glasgow, but he’s thrown himself into and his game has evolved from playing in a different league, playing against different players, some of them world class” said Barclay of his former teammate.

“I really like Duncy. He was a young boy at Glasgow when I was there. Now he’s got his own family, he’s mellowed out, he’s matured – he’s 29 so he’s still relatively young, still fit and hasn’t missed much rugby in the last couple of years. It’s quite exciting for Glasgow and it’s always nice when someone returns to their own club.”

One of the other names mentioned as a replacement for Hastings is Munster’s Scottish-qualified Ben Healy, who Chris Paterson rates highly.

“I’ve seen a lot of him and been really impressed. There’s a lot of good young 10s in Ireland, but Ben Healy’s probably overtaken one or two of them. His physicality, he takes the ball to the line well, he kicks well, he looks unphased at his goal-kicking.

“I love the fact that with his goal-kicking, he just puts the ball down and hits it. I love that approach to goal-kicking, obviously he goes through his process and his routine, but it’s just: ‘Bang. Get down and kick it’, and it’s such a pure strike.

“Similar to what we were saying about Duhan and guys leaving, it’s what’s right for the individual: where they feel they can develop, where they feel they want to go, and go personally. I think he would develop in Scotland well, he’s got the raw materials and wherever he ends up playing his rugby to being an influential player.”

Although pleased with Scotland’s depth, Paterson acknowledged there’s a bit of a gap emerging at club level which has seen the number of project players capped by Scotland rise.

“Edinburgh wanted to have more depth at No10 this year with Jono Lance but he had visa problems so couldn’t come. So they’ve had to fast-track Nathan Chamberlain who hasn’t played a huge amount of senior rugby.

“Jaco is first-choice. He fought for that with Simon Hickey over the last couple of years. And he’s important to how Edinburgh play: he’s physical, he kicks well, and controls the game. He played slightly differently for Scotland in terms of his distribution so he’s adapting based on how the respective coaches want to play which is the sign of a good player.”

“It’s (project players) something you have to look at if it helps. And if everyone else is doing it, it would be foolish not to take part in that too. Jaco has served his time with Edinburgh and been committed. He’s progressing well. You want to strike a balance and produce your own players as well. I wouldn’t say it’s a necessary evil – it’s just part of the game. And it’s important that we have as much depth as possible.

 “Nathan Chamberlain is next there and after that you’ve got guys like Cammy Scott, Harry Paterson, Nathan Sweeney and Ross Thomson. So there are young Scottish guys there too knocking on the door.”


Chris Paterson and John Barclay are joined by Jim Hamilton, Dougie Vipond, Rory Hamilton and Jenny Drummond for the big 1872 Cup clash on Jan 2 live from BT Murrayfield on Premier Sports 1 from 2.30pm. 

Premier Sports customers can now enjoy an even bigger package of great live sports coverage. Formed in 2009, Premier Sports is currently broadcasting in the UK and Republic of Ireland with live and exclusive rights to the Premier League, LaLiga, Serie A, Guinness PRO14, Scottish Cup and Betfred Cup, GAA, NHL, NASCAR and also operate BoxNation, a dedicated boxing channel. Visit www.premiersports.comfor more information.

38 Responses

  1. I agree with what they’re saying about depth. Our backs have come on leaps and bounds and our second and third choice options across the pack are much, much better than 10 years ago.

    However I’m not sure any of our pack are at the level of some of the stand out forwards we had 10 to 15 years ago.

    A Nathan Hines, Simon Taylor or Jason White is the sort of totemic figure your pack is built around and I think we still massively lack that sort of presence.

    Watson is maybe at that level though he’s no Ross Rennie (thankfully more durable mind). Fagerson should get there but he’s not Euan Murray just yet (thankfully plays Sundays though). We’ve potential in the backrow but we’re yet to strike on the sort of balance the Killer Bs provided. Sutherland and Cummings do look to be growing with every game though.

    So in short there is still room for improvement up front but I do think the potential is there. I’d like to see the likes of Ashman, Hunter-Hill and Crosbie capped in the near future. These guys have all the attributes and might just be the “test match animals” required.

    1. I agree we need a talisman but looking back to the players you mention I don’t think we ever got the most out of them. I don’t remember the stat but I’m sure the killer Bs played less together than their reputation would make you think and I never understood why they all seemed to get discarded fairly early -though Barclay made it back. Scotland seem to waste talented players imo and seem happier to try the next cab off the rank than to develop players/help them meet their potential once they get into their mid 20s.

      1. Beattie really wasted his own talent and had a reputation for not putting in the work in training and being a bit of a lazy professional. He was good enough to go a long way on raw talent but faded quickly. Barclay was out of Scotland squads because he fell out with Scott Johnson but returned to captain Scotland. Kelly Brown played for Scotland basically until he retired and captained Scotland. It was only really Beattie who failed to live up to his promise.

        Think they were all very good players but Killer Bs were not a world class backrow. I don’t mean that as a criticism, they were top players at the best, but most of the elite nations can put out outstanding back rows.

      2. @FF: As I recall Kelly Brown was captain and dropped mid season (Feb 2014 ) prior to the Calcutta Cup match. He never returned. Scott J insisted it was a very hard decision to drop him. I cannot recall any captain ever being dropped from the 23. He never played another game for Scotland, however went on to play many seasons with a very successful Sarries side up to his retirement.I do not recall his Scotland career ending through retirement. It ended suddenly and mid season.

    2. @scrummo: No ‘big Jim’ Hamilton, why ever not ! If I were Gregor Townsend I would argue that is why he keeps changing the team, trying to find the one that is shining bright (as in aye that will be ). I don’t agree with you and even if I did, I do not think that is possible due to the frequency of injuries. Gilchrist being one example, appointed captain and never played that season. If we play as a team and to our strengths , we will grow confidence and improve. It is just common sense IMO.

  2. 1. Keeping a consistent team
    2. Bringing in new blood
    3. Stop picking an experienced head

    These three cliques are trotted out constantly and used to fit the narrative. They all depend on form and injuries. But if we win its keep the team we need a run….if we lose all the players not playing are fired out as the saviours….and not to mention grass is always greener or how time makes the past much rosier than it actually was.

    I’ve seen 2 of the 3 in the posts above.

    In reality it’s a mixture of these and the coach to manage it to get the wins.

    As time goes and draws are made it does seem 2015 is going to be etched as the big missed opportunity. Michael Cheika wouldn’t have lasted long but we’d have been in a world cup final and no one could have taken that from us.

    1. Referendum: In 2015 Vern Cotter , dreadful as he was ! was minutes away from getting Scotland to the semifinal. What happened ?

  3. The sad truth about the state of Scottish rugby is that even though we have the best pool of players ever….. we will still under achieve in the six nations 2021 , I can’t see us beating Wales in Murrayfeild even.
    The problem with Scottish rugby is Gregor Townsend as head coach.

    1. Regardless of what your views on Townshend are this post is just nonsense. The problem with Scottish rugby is that we have a tiny playing base, with almost no money or public interest in the game outside test rugby.

      We have significant issues on top of this – governance, organisation, outreach and snobbery – but fundamentally this is our perennial problem.

      Our ‘golden generation’ is a massive improvement on what came before but relative to our rivals is not special.

      We have no right to win and it is delusional to think all that is holding us back is Townshend.

      1. FF: Calling a post ‘nonsense’ because you don’t agree with it is pushing the boundaries IMO. However you have made a few points that do have depth and substance. Let me elaborate.

        We do have the smallest playing base in the 6 nations and we have limited interest from the public. However one way to stimulate interest at grass roots is the international shop window. I believe, all things considered, it is not unrealistic to expect we win our games at home.Would you not agree ?

        Townsend (no h) is only a minor part of the problem IMO, but a part that can be fixed much faster than the other points you make. However like you , I see no alternatives. Cotter had global recognition and dare I say it, charisma. A hard act to follow IMO.

        The snobbery will go in a few decades IMO. Parental support for rugby in private schools is waning. The difference in wages between rugby and football is one factor. The other being the emerging head injury crisis. You will get your wish, the snobs will go , as will their sons and daughters, their support and sponsorship at all tiers of the game. Your issue will go , but give rise to another ? Answers on a postcard please !

        As for outreach the biggest turning point IMO was the cessation of rugby in comprehensives post the teachers strike in 1985. The knock on effect of that is the same as I have outlined above regarding private schools. If you never played, you are unlikely to get involved at grass roots and nether will your kids.

      2. There are 370 or so state secondary schools in Scotland. Only around 22 field a XVs side in each age group.

        The SRU need to turn that around if we are ever to broaden the player base.

      3. @bulldog. Prior to the teachers strike my comprehensive fielded 6 to 9 teams on a Saturday (it was a large school admittedly and there were more children than today) . Boys from every social background. They are now mature with children and grandchildren. They went on to play , support or simply appreciate the game. Lifelong friendships were formed in the mud of school rugby. My school no longer plays. that is a loss of 250 per annum, plus the knock on in family generations. I personally would mourn the loss of the private schools as that could plunge us deeper into decline. If by snobbery we mean private school , lets be careful what we wish for.

      4. What i am noticing is the more we open up our game to the middle and lower classes, the weaker Scottish rugby is getting.

        Keep the game to the private schools and only the best middle class schools. Promote university rugby.

        For the Thistle!

      5. When did you notice that Neil ?The game is open to all, even those south of the border who roll up here criticising the local efforts. Private School clubs have been open for as long as I can remember. Ironically the last clandestine wall to fall as I recall was when someone from outside of Hawick played for the 1st XV. Nothing to do with snobbery as we know it. I am know you are on the wind up however , the game in Scotland has fallen away since it turned professional. We just do not have the structure to cope. It could improve, however like Scrummo says, it needs to start with comprehensive schools playing rugby. Given all the cash we have spent, how hard would it be to build an outreach around schools, not clubs. It would not be easy, lots of red tape, but I feel there is no recognition of that in Scotland. Just for the record, I am not a Toony fan, but it is what it is and it is not going to change.

      6. It is obvious some commenters can talk from a position of strength, and constructively draw out the shallow points tabled with personal reflection and experience. Well done to you all.

        I don’t come here to read a few cliches I can read in any paper. I welcome more opinions and personal experiences that help everyone understand the deep roots that have shaped our game.

  4. Edinburgh-Glasgow
    An entertaining game, given the scoreline(or lack of it) was close until the final 10 minutes, but really lacking in skill and class.
    Looked more like 2 teams from the Premiership who didn’t have a clue how to either grind out a win or win spectacularly.
    Glasgow need to show Brandon Thompson the door. Ross, His namesake the young apprentice apprentice from the Ayrshire Bulls did more in his cameo 10 minutes than Brandon did in 70.
    Hugh Jones showed the 1 piece of magic of the whole game with his 40 m break and step only for Grigg to cough it up.
    Bennet rightly got MOM for a superb defensive shift, but I’d rather see him frightening the opposition with ball in hand.
    The older Grey finally showing some form for Glasgow.
    WP Nel and Mcinally played well too.

    1. Your mind is gone if you thought that was an entertaining game.

      Worst game I have ever seen.

      1. Sorry Bazz, you are probably correct. I didnt mean entertaining in a ‘fantastic skills on show’ way, just that te result could have gone either way for 70 mins. Overall the level of play was poor.

  5. For a variety of reasons there appears to be fewer children playing sport (i regularly wander with my daughters through empty playing fields – south tyneside) Previously I watched Currie, Watsonians, Stirling County, The Caledonians, Edinburgh, The Borders, Glasgow and throughout Scotland. We have never “nailed it” like Ireland have & continue to nail it.

    1. John – that’s very much the core of the problem. When I was at a west of Scotland comprehensive in the 1970s we put out rugby, football and hockey teams out at every age group every week, plus volleyball, basketball and tennis teams. In some year groups we had multiple XVs and XIs. That was hundreds of children out of a school population of about 1300. I doubt there’s any state school doing that now.

      1. I agree Norman, no state school is doing that. Teachers were running these activities unpaid, it was seen to be good for your CV but not paid. So if you think back, I would wager that heads of department or house leaders were also those who ran a sport or another out of hours activity. However the 1985 strike killed all that goodwill. It is likely, I do not know for sure, these selfless teachers were halted by peer pressure or by the Union negotiation outcome (i.e. no unpaid work). After the strike, no extracurricular activity took place.

        We actually have less children around now. The 1970 teenagers were the tail end of the baby boom i.e. those born between 1946 to 1964. Sport was ubiquitous , engaged children in team ethics and in comparison to today’s technology focussed millennial , it was inexpensive which was important , as there was less money going around.

        As for Ireland, the culture was Gaelic games originally and I wonder if they have suffered as Irish Rugby prospered ! Rugby was never the lead sport in Ireland. Back in the 70’s it was only played in private schools I believe. Culturally in Scotland Rugby was a game played in the borders and private schools. The demise of the comprehensive has been a significant factor IMO, yet we never see any form of acknowledgement. Perhaps we need a Tom English or some other journalist to publish it before anyone joins the dots.

      2. I think Irish rugby has always been strong outside private schools in some places, like Munster heartlands. I did a mini-rugby tour and stayed in Shannon and there was a thriving rugby scene that was very competitive.

        I am married to a half-Irish woman whose family is from Galway. I was really impressed by how ingrained local sporting culture is there and nowadays boys who grow up playing Gaelic often transition to rugby at school if they are good athletes because there is a professional pathway.

        Schools rugby is very high profile in Ireland. For all the chat that it is the fourth most popular football code in Ireland, it is far more a niche sport in Scotland because football dominates Scottish sport and culture in a way that Gaelic doesn’t (because it isn’t professional, so whilst it is omnipresent it doesn’t monopolise athletic talent) and football doesn’t (domestic Irish soccer is rotten). Irish success also gives it enormous kudos and exposure.

        Scotland just can’t afford to squander talent. We should be doing everything possible to broaden appeal at youth level but we have a pro-tier first strategy that has brought benefits but isn’t a long term route to success IMO.

  6. When I was at school in Haddington, the head of the P.E department at the local school was a rugby nut and he drove The rugby in the school, there was training after school twice a week and at the weekend often a first, second and third 15 playing for every year group from 1st to 5th year. That talent pool fed the club in the town. Which played at a good level for years. but the whole thing hinged on one guy and his own personal interest in rugby when he retired the initiative in the school was lost and the whole thing collapsed.
    The SRU and clubs need to work out how they get structures in place to offer Rugby
    in schools that aren’t reliant on individuals. Clubs backed by SRU cash should be going to local high schools and offering to provide volunteers to coach for the school rugby teams evenings and weekends and put forward the case for rugby to the most talented athletes coming through the school. the club should then be able to claim cash from the SRU based on some metric of involvement.

    1. Sam that is what is partially happening already. Or at least when i was a development officer for the regions club thats how it would work. Training provided to 3 different High schools and 4 primary school in the local area. Divided the coaching sessions with Sru/club apprentices fresh out of high school.

      Clubs had at the time a rating system (gold/silver/bronze i think) with gold standard clubs being awarded more money (in the region of 10k per annumn) that is excluding the wages paid to the development officer (upwards of 20k full time) and apprentices (5k )

      Part of those ratings was based on targets set by the SRU on player recruitment from the local schools.

      1. Added to this rugby is delivered for Physical Education classes within the schools curriculum along with teachers (typically 4-6 week blocks) for each age grade.

      2. Neil: Why is it not working ? Scrummo says only 20 plus schools are playing rugby ? They must all be in the same region IMO in order to have sides to play against within a short commute . Sorry I am not buying that Neil. Help me out ? Oh it is part of the PE curriculum to expose pupils to many sports , basketball, football, volleyball , table tennis etc. That is hardly a replacement for a 20 week fixture list and Saturday game. Next you will be telling me it is a shortage of referees that stops that happening.

  7. Pretty poor fare, lots of endeavour, very little inspiration only Huw Jones looked like he could do something out of the ordinary, Richie Gray, Mark Bennett played well, the Edinburgh scrum largely dominated.
    How anyone thinks Grigg is a better 13 than Jones is beyond me.
    Although its of the SRUs own making, – Glasgow selling all their best players, very little quality coming in (certainly back wise). Adam Hastings should not have been allowed to leave, given their age Hogg, Gray, Russell were going to leave, but a team should’ve been built around Hastings at Glasgow. I could go on but can’t be bothered, likewise you probably couldn’t be bothered reading my frustration

    1. I think Glasgow and the SRU did intend to build the team around Hastings and gave him a new contract offer but his current contract expires at the end of this season, so they can’t force him to stay. Glasgow are not selling any of their players AFAIK – they are players coming to the end of their contracts and Glasgow won’t receiver anything like compensation for them (and transfer fees didn’t exist in rugby).

      I’m not saying they have no culpability as I doubt he’d be looking to leave if Glasgow were still challenging for trophies (especially to a team as poor as Gloucester), but it’s not like they wanted him to leave.

  8. ff: Where did you read that ?If it is just an opinion, here is mine. Glasgow should have built their team around Jones when he first arrived. But they couldn’t, because they had already set their stall out with Hogg. With no room for two stars, the new boy suffered. Just my opinion.

    I dis-agree with you.Gloucester are not on form right now, however , hardly a bad team for Adam Hastings. They are usually top 6, occasionally top 4. (That is not bottom 6 or relegation zone like Worcester where the man of the moment is going). Best thing Gloucester could do is hire Jones. Hastings, Jones and Rees Zammitt would be a dream team IMO. Oh yes, Harris would be there as well. That will please Toony.

    PS the ridiculous thing is this, Worcester are well clear of relegation this year as they are not playing a game due to Covid cancellations from the opposition.Actually Worcester are a great family club and the set up is magnificent. So I mean no offence, some of my best friends are Sixways stalwarts.

    1. Hastings said he’d been made a good offer by Glasgow but turned it down. He was recruited to remove Finn and was their FH for the future.

      Sad thing about Jones was he came in as quite a sensation and has been reduced to but part player at club and country. 2018 there were no issues with him and Hogg starring in the same Scotland team so I don’t see why it should have been a problem to have had both.

      Gloucester have been also tans for a while. Their last 10 league placings are 7th, 3rd, 7th, 9th, 8th, 9th, 9th, 5th, 9th, 3rd.

      So in a decade they’ve only made the playoffs twice and not made the final. It’s not somewhere I’d expect an ambitious young player to go to but then he did attend Millfield and play for Hartpury so has roots in the area. Whatever the reason, he’s not gone there to win silverware.

  9. Watching the NFL and I can see the Cleveland punter is SQ and is called the Scottish Hammer, maybe he can come in at stand off.

    I got the impression that Hastings never really settled at Glasgow, maybe he felt that with the “name” he felt a big fish in a smaller pond – in other words there may be other reasons why he left.

    On the other name mentioned, Ben Healy- reading the Munster forums, the reasons for him leaving Munster are interesting. Playing for Ireland, he is restricted in his earning capacity, as he would not be allowed to play international rugby as well as making big bucks in France. If he switched for Scotland, he could do 2 years at Glasgow and then go to France as well as playing international rugby. Not sure if that does Glasgow on the long run.

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