Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Mercenaries or Necessaries?

Phil Burleigh - pic © Al Ross
Phil Burleigh - pic © Al Ross

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.

12 Responses

  1. I think the SRU has done a pretty good job with the balance of Foreign players to SQ players. If you want those pro players to develop into internationals they have to be competing in the big club games, playoffs, finals, high end European games. If supplementing a few good foreigners gets them into those positions it’s well worth it.

    1. Say that on the offsideline blog and you would have your head ripped off for having such a rational thought.

  2. The point about the SA teams having full squads to choose from during the 6N is interesting, but it could be balanced out by SA participating in a non-AIs international window at some point (their participation in future tourneys with Oz and NZ now being in some doubt).

  3. Scotland tour squad announced … 17 uncapped players and Ritchie is Captain

    Ewan Ashman (Sale Sharks), Nick Auterac (Northampton Saints), Josh Bayliss (Bath), Simon Berghan (Edinburgh), Jamie Bhatti (Bath), Magnus Bradbury (Edinburgh), David Cherry (Edinburgh), Alex Craig (Gloucester), Luke Crosbie (Edinburgh), Scott Cummings (Glasgow Warriors), Rory Darge (Glasgow Warriors), Matt Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors), Cameron Henderson (Leicester Tigers), Robin Hislop (Doncaster Knights), Jamie Hodgson (Edinburgh), Oli Kebble (Glasgow Warriors), Kiran McDonald (Glasgow Warriors), Jamie Ritchie (Edinburgh), Javan Sebastian (Scarlets), Sam Skinner (Exeter Chiefs), Grant Stewart (Glasgow Warriors), George Turner (Glasgow Warriors).

    Jack Blain (Edinburgh), Jamie Dobie (Glasgow Warriors), Cole Forbes (Glasgow Warriors), Adam Hastings (Glasgow Warriors), George Horne (Glasgow Warriors), Damien Hoyland (Edinburgh), Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh), James Lang (Harlequins), Rufus McLean (Glasgow Warriors), Matt Scott (Leicester Tigers), Charlie Shiel (Edinburgh), Scott Steele (London Irish), Kyle Steyn (Glasgow Warriors), Ross Thompson (Glasgow Warriors), Sione Tuipulotu (Glasgow Warriors).

    1. It’ll be interesting to see what sort of line-up Blair goes with and whether all 17 uncapped players get game time over the three games.

      1. Really baffled that Hutchison isn’t included but Tuipulotu is. Is the latter actually any good? I fee he should have to earn his call up a bit more, but maybe he’s been making waves out in Japan’s Top League. I understood the standard is pretty poor, with mega-bucks foreigners supplemented by players who are semi-pro at best, sometimes outright amateurs.

        Either way, Hutchison seems like he’s out in the cold.

        Exciting young back three and back row options.

        Georgia could be a bit of a banana skin if they get to pick their strongest side. They could strangle a young side in their backyard and they’ve added a few more accomplished backs. I guess we’ll still be able to field a strong and less experimental side for that game.

      2. Hutchinson a known quantity maybe? It is an A match after all. Brown, Grey, McInally also omitted. Doesn’t explain Matt Scott mind, maybe want a little bit of experience in there..

  4. Some pretty interesting talking points in the squad actually.

    Nick Auterac & Javan Stevenson – had no idea that either of these guys were SQ (or who Stevenson was tbh). Auterac has bounced around from club to club and looked average whenever I’ve seen him recently despite a bit of hype when he was younger. What does it say for our development pathways that these guys have been included over recent-ish U20s like George Thornton, Adam Nicol or Murray McCallum?

    Back row is stacked with young talent – picking 3 from Crosbie, Ritchie, Darge, Bayliss and Fagerson is very exciting especially when you add in Gordon who would have gone but for injury and Skinner and Craig who are also options.

    Chance for a young leadership group to form – with the lions and majority of senior players sitting this one out, its a real shot for some of the more experienced guys on tour (Ritchie, Cummings, Skinner, Horne, Hastings, Kinghorn) to start forming the group that will be leading us post 23 rwc.

    Top 2 13s out but no room for Hutchinson or Bennett – with Harris, Jones and Redpath out thought for sure we’d see one of these guys back in the 13 jersey. Instead we’re taking Tuipolotu?

    Thompson leapfrogs Jaco VDW – justified given both of their respective club seasons but still surprising. Hope Thompson kicks on and becomes a genuine contender for 10 going forward.

    David Cherry for the lions – will need to be kept fresh for when this inevitably happens

    1. Adam Nicol is nowhere near international standard, he’s struggled a lot in the scrum when he’s been picked for Glasgow. That game where he was hooked at half time for Du Plessis springs to mind.

      1. I agree but just raises the question of what went wrong there?

        He was very dominant at I20 level.

  5. Pretty positive about the summer squad announcement. If you add back in the Lions 8, the seniors that have been rested and the walking wounded, not to mention a few fans favourites that seem to have slipped off the radar, then we’ve more strength in depth than I can remember. In fact some of the youngsters are playing so well they would be in contention if everyone was available.

    Looking forward now to seeing if Blair can get some units to quickly gel and how the team will approach the upcoming games.

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Scottish Rugby News and Opinion