As is tradition this time of year, opinions are starting to be raised about the quality and source of recruitment for the two pro teams.
This year, the camp which contests that the SRU’s approach is doing a disservice to young Scottish players is particularly vocal and perhaps they have a point – our two ProSomething sides accounted for nearly half of the new contracts signed by the Northern Hemisphere part of the league.
Some of those players (James Lang, Cole Forbes, Ben Vellacott) are either Scottish-Qualified prospects or existing members of the national squad who are coming “home” to be managed by the SRU and brought further into the fold but others (Jack Dempsey, Henry Immelman) are clearly not.
That’s a hard thing to stomach for Scottish supporters who quite rightly want to see the two pro teams who, after all, are owned by the SRU develop young talent to keep the national team on the upward trajectory we’re currently enjoying.
The problem that the SRU faces is that, because they own the two pro teams, they have the success of those teams to consider too and that’s a hard circle to square.
It goes without saying that not everyone with an interest in rugby in Scotland also has an affinity for one of the pro clubs – for as hard as Glasgow try with their “limited edition” training wear, the demise of Border Reivers and Caley Reds has always left a sour taste for some, while others just have never shared an interest in the game outside of the international windows.
Those of us who do though, pay not insignificant sums of money to stand in a corner of the running track at Scotstoun or peer from behind a pillar at the new baby Murrayfield and we can’t be expected to do that for weekly mediocrity.
With the looming spectre of an influx of South African teams full of reigning world champions who’ll be with their clubs through the whole Six Nations block and hoping to unseat a Leinster team that seemingly has 2 or 3 Irish international-calibre players inexplicably called Byrne in every position, using the international windows to blood and develop young Scottish players is a noble idea but it won’t make the Scottish club teams competitive – and unless we’re competing for the league, people won’t be renewing their season tickets.
Some of our imports have done great things for the pro teams and their communities too – they not only put bums on seats in the stadiums, they put smiles on the faces of children (and more than a few medical staff) at Edinburgh Sick Kids and GCH, they’re characters and they’re instantly recognisable.
Many of the great cult heroes in the stands at both stadiums are players that have never worn the thistle…for every Stuart Hogg there’s a DTH van der Merwe or a Bill Mata for every Ross Ford. They’ve lent experience too, to exactly the kind of young Scottish prospects that we want to see more of, that has proved to be invaluable.
Petrus Du Plessis came to Glasgow to wind down his career as a player-coach and, amongst the turmoil of backroom changes at Scotstoun and while teaching Lee Jones how to shred the guitar, helped to turn Zander Fagerson into a Lion.
It’s a tough spot to be in – we all want a successful Scotland team and that means we have to keep a strong line of Scottish players coming, the ownership structure of the two pro teams means we’re well within our rights to expect that the SRU will use them to do just that.
Those of us who spend our weekends and our money following those same pro teams expect those teams to be competitive, that same structure means we’re also within our rights to expect the SRU to do that too.
It’s the easiest thing in the world to bash the Union for whatever we can (it’s usually quite good fun too), but on this one I’ve got a fair bit of sympathy for them – it’s certainly not a balancing act I’d like to have to do.
Maybe they can ask Finn to teach them how to juggle.