High Ground edition 16; dateline 10 December 2012
Greetings from the frozen land of the Caledonians, or the land of the frozen Caledonians. Why did we think the kilt and nothing underneath was a good choice of kit anyway? Speaking of kit, have you seen the new Scottish rugby away strip? It’s a lovely attempt to capture the romanticism of our national flag, the Saltire, with a wee nod to the Galacticos of Real Madrid in its sharp whiteness (which goes so well with most of our players’ silky olive skins...). The crosses of the Saltire wrap round from front to back. You can just hear the marketing guys saying this can’t you? What you actually get is a shirt when from the back it looks as if, as one spectator beside me at the All Blacks game said, “X marks the spot” – ouch! From the front, with the new and ubiquitous “pec panel” sculptured scoop, it looks like one of those Gascoigne-esque, man-does-barbeque-in-a-French-maid’s-outfit aprons. Actually I think Chabal and some of the French guys might just get away with it, but not so sure about our boys. 2013 Calendar anyone?
Arriverderci, Andy pal.
The new away strip might just have been the tipping point for Andy ‘Mac’ Robinson who after another three defeats, a drop down the rankings and more philosophical chat about us progressing, decided to hand in his resignation. For once it appears that a coach has shown honour and accepted responsibility for their failure in the role. I’m hoping that Andy doesn’t instantaneously pop up holding the scarf of a big club side and spoil my warm glow of idealism but I have a good feeling on this one. What went wrong? Well, consistency or lack of seems to be the key for me. We had some big one-off results, beating Australia, South Africa and on tour in Argentina, but poor Six Nations and World Cup performances. Andy also followed suit with previous coaches and didn’t build a team around Chris Paterson, our best player on record even playing not in his best position, probably because ‘he wasn’t heavy enough’.
Scots lacking confidence shock
The other big factor for the Scottish team is lack of belief leading to under-performance and subsequently a self-fulfilling prophecy. Players reading the Scottish press and being exposed to UK experts classifying our team as not good enough, some of whom are simply calling it like they see it and reflecting the rankings, also doesn’t help. Look at Scotland’s and England’s outcomes against the All Blacks. Scotland became the first team in yonks to score three tries against NZ but never believed they could win the game and didn’t. England on the other hand always believe they can beat the All Blacks even when everybody else knows they are kidding themselves on. So guess what happens when England start to play a bit and the Kiwis turn up with a wee bit of their “yeah whatever” attitude on northern hemisphere teams, especially the big, Brit motherland section. You know the ones that tried to come up with their own ‘nearly all-black kit’ at the last World Cup? Well done England – that’s what adding big belief to your existing skills and attributes does for a team!
Flowers for Scotland?
So what and who next for Scottish rugby? One of the things I liked about Andy Robinson was that he made no attempt whatsoever to remotely appear ‘Scottish’, so no learning the anthem, kilt wearing, hand on heart malarkey. The down side of that though, perhaps, is it becomes more difficult to get into the cultural and psychological identity of your players – well the ones that aren’t Dutch anyway. I know the Welsh have had their share of Kiwis and at times that’s worked for them, and the All Blacks are, in the words of Geech*, “Scotsmen who have learned how to win” so maybe looking in the land of the long white cloud might be an answer. We’d need to get the right Kiwi though, one that doesn’t think that all our players are sub-standard from the off. Or we look at our own ranks and find someone from there. I can’t immediately think of a candidate who jumps out from the pack all the same. Maybe we could go a bit left field – or left fielder – and ask England’s antipodean cricket guru Andy Flowers if he’s give it a lash. So he’s Zimbabwean? It’s got a “Z” in it.
(*Ian McGeechan: rugby coaching god.)
Schools of thought on development
Which brings me on to the game of rugby in general and how it’s developed. We need, in Scotland, to radically up our development game and start to make seismic changes in how we make things happen. Yes we are up against football and its dominance in the psyche, media and volunteer infrastructure. However, rugby isn’t that badly off, with every club having a home base, significant investment via government-backed initiatives, a network of development officers, associated trainees and other sports development and Active Schools staff all willing and able to help. What is really needed is concerted and full-blown efforts to get the club activity substantially expanded and at the same time create a competitive, performance infrastructure for young players to develop and thrive in. If the private schools are still winning the tournaments and producing a sizeable chunk of the national team, where are the full-blown scholarships to these schools? One look at any rugby magazine’s back page will show a raft of English schools offering this type of opportunity. At the same time why not beef up the performance side of the S State Schools of Rugby initiative? Let’s avoid timidity and encourage parents to make placement requests for their children to those schools to strengthen the playing pool. Let’s also encourage clubs to develop their facilities in such a way as to make them more attractive for the public to visit socially and to recreate. This will increase turnover, allow people not connected with the sport to experience the positives, and create a community investment which will attract in turn local and other business investment. The crucial next step would be to channel that increased investment, not into buying players in per se, but into backing the ‘grow your own’ approach. This building from the ground up is actually what the Kiwis have done and still do. Every little local club wants and desires to produce at least one All Black wherever the club sits in the domestic picture and get a picture of that player in pride of place on the wall of the club.
And while I’m on this soap box…
We need to break the mould in Scottish rugby and we need to do it fast or we’ll be heading the way of our football team with the seedings pots starting to look like the competition instead of the games. The pro sides have started to change the psyche but more, much more, needs to be done if we are to regain ground and reclaim our rightful place in rugby’s hierarchy. Remember, we have the oldest district fixture in the sport in Glasgow v Edinburgh and took part in the first international contest. That doesn’t count for anything when it comes to a seeding pot but it does say something about who we are and where we should ensure we are in the World rugby psyche.
Have a ruckin’ good Christmas!
The High Ground
An alternative view of the Scottish sport, leisure and culture landscape