Softening lower level could make Scots harder to beat
I don't know how this would work, but have patience with me. Perhaps rugby at a lower level has to be "softened" to attract new players.
In fact, is touch rugby, so prevalent in other countries but lost without trace here in the UK in relative terms, a key selling point for rugby? Or am I barking up a tree, or just barking?
Former British Lions rugby player Peter Wright and I took part in a night at my club, Glasgow Academicals, on Saturday evening. We both did our bit (unpaid, your honour, except for a bottle of lovely whisky) and then it was question-and-answer time.
In the audience were two great men of Glasgow rugby, Chas Afuakwah and Colin Guthrie, both former Glasgow players. And the questions they put forward had the same two themes as many of the other questions.
The tackles are harder and in the pro game, as Glasgow Warriors' Ruaridh Jackson discovers. Photo: SNS.
Those themes were: how do you narrow a widening gap between your average amateur club player and the super-sized and super-fit professional? And, is rugby at the top level just so physical that it can't, and perhaps shouldn't, be copied at a lower level?
I await these autumn Tests, as an example, with held breath as, having watched the Kiwi rugby this weekend, the collisions might just be registered on the Richter scale on some remote outpost built specifically for predicting earthquakes.
Firstly to the "gap" question. Peter is coach of Glasgow Hawks - an amateur club that trains three times a week as a team. There's more to it than that, but the key is the dedication and attempt at replicating the professional game.
Most young lads who go on to play international rugby are spotted in their mid-teens but don't play professional rugby until they are around 20. In between that time, they play for their clubs.
So, in answer to the first bit about narrowing the gap, it can only be done from below and, if you want to get nearer the pros, you have to train like pros and join a club that wants you to do that.
This means, I think, that Scottish amateur clubs will now train more than twice a week and all players need to be on daily conditioning schedules.
The second theme is trickier. My own personal experience from my friends is that mums and dads love their kids playing mini-rugby. Oh, it's fantastic. A Sunday afternoon, coffee-sipping while huddled against the wind, lots and lots of kids filling rugby pitches for as far as you can see, catching up with old friends, perhaps a picnic, a trip somewhere new, maybe a gin and tonic for mum and then home with a sweaty, happy, hungry, healthy child who will now sleep all night.
And then it gets tougher. The hits get higher - and harder. The boys get bigger, the girls drop out, the shoulder pads go on, the pre-match chanting becomes more ferocious, and then kids and parents drop out.
I think the statistic in Scotland is that for every 100 children who play mini-rugby, just one will go on to become a senior rugby player.
I might be in a minority here, but I think there are two levels of sport.
At the top level, a few elite, highly trained, strong, massively powerful men are paid to win games for their club or their country and entertain us in the process. We'll watch them in the autumn Tests. In fact, the Kiwis will do a little dance to keep us amused as well. Do you honestly believe that's tradition? Er, no, it's entertainment gone daft.
Oh, there's a shadowy area in the middle of a few quid here and there, but almost all the other rugby players play for fun and to be with friends and, while they might have some ambition in the game, they are principally testing themselves at a level with which they are comfortable.
Only the lads who will one day be professionals are training to a different rhythm.
But, as I read a fascinating article about Sonny Bill Williamson joining his grass roots Kiwi club and taking part in their weekly "touch rugby night", I thought, now, we don't do that here.
Maybe touch rugby, without the contact, the hits, the shoulder pads, the rucking and the scrummaging is underused and could be a tool for keeping players involved in the game longer and prevent the massive mini-rugby drop out.
In these modern times, of course, that is if their partners allowed it.
For the record, the Hawks' third training night is a touch rugby night, on a Monday, most of the players make it and they sit second in the Scottish league and are gunning for the top with some of their players destined for the pro game.
Maybe, just maybe, it helps bridge the "gap" too.