The worst World Cup showing ever. One of the worst Six Nations showings ever. In the near-140-year history of the Scottish Rugby Union this has been a true ‘annus horribilis’. If Scottish rugby was a Dickens’ novel, this would unquestionably be ‘the worst of times’. The question is, does anybody actually care? Given the manager Andy Robinson and his SRU paymasters are still ensconced in the corridors of power at Murrayfield, it would appear not.
The upcoming Autumn Tests and 6 Nations campaign should really be a defining moment for the SRU; if there is another whitewash akin to 2011’s mauling then surely ramifications must cause a change in how rugby in this country is operated? Speaking to the Dundonian doyenne of Scottish rugby writing, Kevin Ferrie of The Herald, he is of a similar opinion. Yet he says he has felt the need for change since mid-90s. “On a par with Portugal” is how he describes the hopes of the national team in the next World Cup.
The role of Andy Robinson as manager must be up for consideration. The manager of Scotland’s erstwhile football team, Craig Levein was recently disposed of by the SFA for being not very good. Why it took them so long is anyone’s guess; Levein had a success rate of 41.6 % in matches when compared to Robinson’s 21 %. If we were being rational, surely the former Edinburgh coach rather than the former Hearts’ manager should have been dispatched long ago? However, as the affable Ferrie laid out clearly in our discussion, the SRU are constrained by the market in which they operate yet are also constrained by their ambition; the game is a minority interest in Scotland in the face of football. (Given the horrendous condition of football, that tells its own story). It is played essentially amongst the private schools of the land – a fact underlined by the absence of any state schools in this year’s instalment of the Scottish Cup – and that the pool of players is not the most talented. This talent deficit has also been compounded by the lack of money in the SRU coffers, emphasised by recent attempts to pawn off of the family silver as the SRU seek to sell off the naming rights to Murrayfield, with Mark Dodson, the organisation’s chief executive confessing that it would be madness not to raise revenue in this way. For an organisation that has had an exclusively Scottish based set of sponsors recently, such as the Famous Grouse and RBS, one must really wonder if it is possible for such an Edinburgh centric entity to entice a multi-national to invest seriously in a product which is about as attractive as the aesthetically revolting bamboo clad Parliament down the road at Holyrood.
Amidst the laissez-faire slumber of the national side, nodding away like a passed out member of the Tartan Army in a far-flung doorway, much of the media made great light of the two Scottish club sides, Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh Rugby, having sterling seasons. Glasgow have moved into their own stadium at Scotstoun and at the time of writing are on a record unbeaten run in the league, while Edinburgh trumped all expectations last season to reach the semi-finals of the Heineken Cup, eventually being ground down by an excellent Ulster side. Yet, was this merely a flash in the pan? The current European campaign has been the worst for Scottish sides since 2004/2005, while Ferrie argues that Glasgow congratulating themselves at getting a crowd of a couple of thousand when contrasted to the throngs of people who go to watch Munster, Ulster or even Connaught is somewhat hyperbolic. Speaking as a native of Glasgow I can understand why; Glasgow is a city with red, white and blue and green and white football mania coursing through its veins. I have only ever been to two Warriors’ matches in my life, and for all their clever marketing, it would take something colossal to breach the hold that football has on Glaswegian sporting life. One embarrassing titbit of knowledge portrays quite starkly the battle that rugby has to fight to win the hearts and minds of people in the Central Belt is that Glasgow, the largest city in Scotland with the largest population, has never produced an international player from its state schools. However, as Celtic majestically defeat Barcelona in the Champions League and Rangers, despite exile in Division 3 continue to sell out Ibrox on a regular basis, the appeal of the windswept bowl at Scotstoun on a Friday night weakens day by day.
“I’m sorry to have been so gloomy” is one of Kevin Ferrie’s parting shots as we finish up. Yet you honestly cannot blame him. Rugby in this country is not only institutionally stagnant but faces numerous cultural bulwarks. Arguably, as the SRU continue to plod along, I fear rugby will drift further away from the public consciousness, and as one of the nations involved in the establishment of the international game, that would be a tremendous shame for all of those who have experienced a bracing February encounter against the “Auld Enemy” at Murrayfield.