What is happening with Scottish rugby?


by James Aitken

Like many others I was confident that we would beat Wales in the second round of the 6 Nations.  Even now, a week later, I still find it difficult to think about that performance.  It was truly awful.

Being from Galashiels rugby has always been part of my life.  Whether growing up in the Borders, or when at university in Dundee, or when living in Chicago and now playing touch rugby at Murrayfield Wanderers on a Tuesday night.

I suspect like many others of my age February means that the 5 Nations and now the 6 Nations is upon us.  A great time of year when dreams could be made and often were.  The team were not always great.  In fact sometimes they were anything but great, but there was always the feeling, no matter who we played, that we would have a go.  That has always been enough for me.  Against Wales they let me down.  They let themselves down.

So what of rugby in Scotland?  A good place to start is the Scottish Rugby Union (SRU).

My own experience with the SRU is not a positive one.  I remember along with Harry McGrath and others trying to get the SRU interested in doing something with the local Scottish community in Chicago.  The Scotland A team were playing there in the Churchill Cup.  What a depressing experience that was.   The SRU were just not interested.

So how are our national team doing?  Under Andy Robinson the team has improved.  The series win in Argentina last year was incredible.  Beating Australia and South Africa in autumn internationals in the last 2 years was impressive.  Beating Ireland in Dublin last year was equally impressive.  Our A team is going well.  Our under 20 team and Ladies’ teams are, as often is the case, struggling just now.  Our two professional teams are also struggling to compete in the Magners League and make no impression in the Heineken Cup at all.  Their crowds are still poor unless they are playing each other.  Where they call home is not ideal.  They have smaller budgets than other teams.  That said a number of good young players are coming through.  Two teams are though not enough.  The pool of potential international players for Scotland is tiny when compared with other countries.

What though of club rugby.  I watch Gala, Gala A and Gala YM regularly.  All three teams are playing well and the quality of rugby is for the most part pretty good.  Personally I think that the “league split” for Premier 1 and 2 is a good idea.  All of the teams I have seen this year have tried to play rugby and have rarely been negative.  I was very impressed with the set up at Falkirk RFC when I watched Gala play there.  I don’t know how many people regularly watch club rugby in Scotland just now but my perception is that the numbers are stable at best.  I feel the same about playing numbers.  And we really must stop talking about the 1980’s teachers strike when talking about this.

As for junior and schools rugby the nonsense of competing school and junior structures needs to end.  There also still needs to be a place for Sevens in the calendar.  Whether the Cup competition survives is open to question.  Summer rugby for our club game must also be looked at.  The winter we have endured has started this debate again.  I would also like to see the SRU encouraging junior and reserve team games to be played on artificial pitches such as the one at Murrayfield Wanderers.  These games do not all have to be played on a Saturday afternoon.

What of facilities.  I play touch rugby on a Tuesday night at Murrayfield Wanderers.  We play on the new 4g pitch, so called because it’s 4th generation artificial grass.  The surface is so good it does on occasion make us look good.  This must be part of the future of Scottish rugby.  I can also see the new 4g pitch at the Meggetland sports facilities from my flat.  Boroughmuir RFC play there.  For some reason Edinburgh Council did not make that big enough for a rugby pitch.  With just a bit more work the Meggetland facilities would have made a great home for the Edinburgh team.  The chance was there but was not taken.  That was disappointing.

I rarely hear good things said about the SRU.  As mentioned my own experience has not been a good one.  Is everything the SRU’s fault?  Of course not.  Competing rugby factions in Scotland will also not improve things.  There is also little money around just now.  That is why it is so disappointing when you hear of the new 4g pitch near Boroughmuir RFC.  Every time new facilities are mooted the local rugby community must argue for rugby to be included.  That is what is happening in Galashiels as Gala Fairydean are looking at installing a new 4g pitch.  That is the way forward.  Encouraging our rugby clubs to apply for Community Amateur Sports Club status is another.  That could mean a few thousands pounds a year for some rugby clubs.  Bringing together our school and junior structures is another.  Things can be done.

Someone asked me earlier if I intend to watch Scotland play Ireland.  Watching our national team is part of who I am.  Do they make me despair at times?  Yes they do.  Has it been a poor 10 years?  Absolutely.  Do I still remember watching us play Wales at my home in Langlee in 1982, or being at the England game in 1990 or the French game in 1996, or being in Dublin in 1996 or watching the 1999 French game in a bar in Chicago without sound and staring at the TV screen in disbelief as we run in 5 tries.  That answers the question.


James Aitken is a freelance tax and legal services consultant