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Could you ever make rugby the number one sport?

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John Beattie | 12:20 UK time, Sunday, 9 October 2011

Could rugby union, with it's 'game for all shapes and sizes' and its penchant for collision injuries ever, really, be the number one game of choice in a group of islands with a burgeoning obesity crisis and a love of soccer?

Mmmm. Discuss. How would you do that?

My own personal opinion, if you want it, is that countries like Scotland and England have become car-dependent, TV-watching, complaining countries that breed people who are, frankly, softer than your average Kiwi, Australian, South African, or even Frenchman.

Scotland captain Alastair Kellock

Youngsters can learn from Scotland captain Alastair Kellock (pictured) but BBC blogger John Beattie feels schools are key to developing Scottish rugby Pic: SNS

I am, actually, ecstatic for the Welsh, who, uniquely in the British Isles, do indeed have rugby as a tangible part of their culture and have had so to an extent where, for a while, rugby would have been their largest sport.

Ask any English rugby player what it was like to play rugby against the Welsh clubs in the olden days and he will show you a few scars.

I'm a proud, proud Scot but there is a culture in Scotland and England where to be seen to be ultra sporty, perhaps a rugby-lover and tough into the bargain, is viewed as extreme. It is far more politically acceptable to believe that we all win, especially at school.

So there we have it, from the North it's Wales and France, and from the South Australia and New Zealand. It is, I have to say, a captivating World Cup.

The fact that Scotland, England and Ireland are all out will mean that the attractiveness or otherwise of the World Cup is merely a diversion. The question now is how those countries, including mine, rebuild and remodel to provide a better challenge four years from now - or perhaps even further down the line.

The new chief executive of the Scottish rugby union, Mark Dodson, has gone on record as saying that he wants rugby to replace football as the game of choice for Scottish children.

And yet a friend of mine called me during the week after a high tackle by Delon Armitage on Chris Paterson saying: "How can a game like this, where a tackle like that is hardly commented on by the pundits, really be a sport where mothers want their children to play it?"

He's a football fan and I kind of get his argument.

But it's worth looking at rugby's position in society. Earlier on today I watched small tousle-haired kids skipping to mini rugby on the pitches opposite my house. They were loving it and, if ever rugby is to mount a serious challenge to football, I think mini rugby needs expanding.

But rugby in Scotland is a marginalised sport. There is an anti-snob reaction to rugby. The game doesn't have a TV deal and it's viewed outside the town teams as a 'posh' sport as it's the fee-paying schools that have kept the game live.

Certainly, many of the players who took the field against England were 'middle class', if such a thing exists having gone to fee-paying schools.

I think, and I always have, that much of the money raised for sports development is wasted on crazy schemes plugging the gap provided by the death of school sport.

Here's my pay off. If Scotland seriously wants to bring rugby back up by the scruff of its neck then there has to be a mechanism found to pay PE teachers who are already in schools to create rugby teams and re-create Saturday morning school rugby.

Oh, I know that the world has changed and kids have jobs; well, then let's make it Wednesdays.

But the local authorities, government, and sports have to sit down and find a way to pay PE teachers to regenerate school team sport in every type of school. And the number of those PE teachers needs to increase to get a more sporty culture.

Otherwise, we'll just get softer and we'll all end up a nation of TV watchers; and the sport on TV will be football, and only football.

Football is a great sport, but I love mine so much I want it to grow. Do you have a better idea? How would you drag rugby up the pecking order in this country?


  • Comment number 1.

    It could start by stop trying to compete with football. Rugby clubs in the Dundee area all offer Sunday morning coaching. The exact same time that youth football is played and so miss out on the chance to get the kids involved. Children will play both if given the chance but almost all will pick football first. Ryan Giggs used to play rugby league. Your right John though, this nation has become soft as **** Rugby is not a middle class sport in New Zealand, or Wales, there is a lot of hard work needed to change the sports perception.

  • Comment number 2.

    Ah Mr Beattie... Poor Mr Lawes is getting blamed for everything. It was Delon Armitage that High tackled Chris Paterson.

  • Comment number 3.

    There are more opportunities for children to play rugby now than when I was a kid – for starters, mini rugby didn’t exist then. But, in spite of this, children are choosing not to.

    When I learnt to play rugby it was “character building stuff” – like compulsory showers (frequently cold) after games – but the concept of building character through hard wok and a bit of adversity (rugby can be painful after all) has gone out of style with kids, and their parents. For example, the teachers at my children’s school turn a blind eye to the majority of pupils that don’t bother to shower after games/PE. And without the concept of character building or personal discipline – rugby is just another professional sport where the term professional foul is no longer a dirty word.

  • Comment number 4.

    I'm sorry to say that rugby will never be Scotlands number one sport for two reasons, firstly as you have already mentioned John, the image of rugby being a middle class sport, but secondly the Scottish press & media will always be football orientated.
    I am one of these people who enjoys football and rugby, but even I get fed up of the wall to wall coverage of football on Scottish TV and in the Scottish press. Every day the Scottish Tabloids are dominated by football (namely the Old Firm) while Scottish club rugby barely gets a mention, normally a tiny square on the inside page about Glasgow or Edinburgh's latest woefull performance in the Pro 12.
    Rugby may never be our number one sport but it needs to be promoted better. I feel that if you want kids to play rugby you need to get them to watch it and that means getting them along to there local club side or one of the Pro Teams. The SRU needs to sell the game by getting into schools and by increasing attendances at Fir Hill and Murrayfield. If Scottish rugby was successfull at both club level and international level, then maybe rugby could get a whole page in the tabloid sports section.

  • Comment number 5.

    Speaking as someone who used to play (albeit 20 years ago) and, until recently, enjoyed watching rugby, I find it hard to see rugby being anything other than a minority sport until the IRB stop tinkering about with the laws. The maul, the scrum and the off-side laws all seem to differ, depending on the time of day, the two teams playing and the hemisphere of origin of the referee.

  • Comment number 6.

    Rugby will not and can not take over from Football. The CEO of Scottish Rugby may desire it but there are simply not the facilities to get into the schools in most areas of Scotland. Rugby must be played on grass and there are not the number of grass pitches.
    As for the anti-snob mentality, well the sport has only itself to blame. One west end club's members refer to their own and other players from a state school background as "Grange Hillers". Even a big "open" club on the Southside which my self and a friend called Singh went to join in the early 90s were met with a "Don't worry we let all sorts in here..." and when I lent my pal £10 to go to the bar I was told, "Be careful you know what these guys are like with change."
    I love rugby, but we would be kidding ourselves on if we pretendded there was no an elitism.

  • Comment number 7.

    John - The reason Scottish sport can not excel is brilliantly summed up but the comments on your article i.e. Scottish rugby can't be number one ahead of football and then respective person gives their argument. The important word here is "cant" and is never far away from the average Scottish persons lips.

    I had this exact same conversation in work the other day, I work in Glasgow and most people are football focused and I was met with the same attitude.

    My question is, do you think Steve Jobs sat in his garage and thought I "cant" change the world with my technology?

    Why am I always meet with an attitude that Scotland can't be good at anything followed by a number of excuses - Our climate is too poor, our population is too small, there are too many other options for kids, we don't have the facilities.

    Why don't we just believe as a race that we CAN achieve! Even if we never reach our goal then at the end of the day it's sport and it will be good fun trying!

    I don't see any reason why Scottish Rugby can't be bigger than football, I mean Scottish football isn't exactly up too much either.

    Why don't we forget about all the excuses and just say let's give it a go and everyone will be a winner cause we'll have a good time along the way. I don't think anyone will complain about Scottish sport if we give it our best shot.

    A bit of common sense and a change in attitude and I'm sure we can exceed all our own expectations.

  • Comment number 8.

    Scotland is the most northerly of northern hemisphere top rugby nations and as such have a little more to contend with than most of our rivals in international and club rugby never mind competing with football as well. Much football takes place indoors on wooden pitches, astroturf pitches and rubber pitches, given the contact nature of rugby, these options are not available and the only option is outdoors on grass come rain, hail and snow, which it often does.

    For rugby to develop further and have more participation by kids, youngsters PE teachers and Coaches alike, we need to address that one and get more facilities made available which address the outdoor nature of the game, the need to play on natural turf and the Scottish Weather. Then we might have a chance of competing with other nations and make some inroads into the dominance of The Old Firm in Scottish Sport.

  • Comment number 9.

    I used to live in Brampton, Toronto and visited the Cassie Campbell Community Centre, named after the local captain of the female Canadian ice hockey teams that won Winter Olympic gold medals in Salt Lake City in 2002 and Turin in 2006.

    Indoors there are 2 swimming pools, an ice rink with spectator seating, a basketball court, and a gym so big there is a running track around all the weights, running and cycling machines. Outside are football pitches, a cricket field, tennis courts and parking for 600 cars, all in one big property the size of an average school. It is state of the art, brand new and breathtaking.

    And there are 6 more just like it, in a population centre the same size as Edinburgh.

    Each one cost $44million to make, and even with the brutal current exchange rate, this is only £30million, [usually £22million]. These community centres are paid for by the council and the education board, and public use in the evenings subsidises school use in the day.

    Instead of the defective Edinburgh tram system designed to replace the number 22 bus and currently costed at £714 million, we could have 28 of these centres up and down the country and the change could take the SRU out of debt.

    Complexes all over Scotland, each hubs of the community, named after Scottish sporting heroes, each housing countless local sporting teams of their own.

    The Chris Hoy centre: All of the above plus a velodrome.

    The Andy Murray Centre: All of the above with more empathis on tennis, different surfaces and indoor courts.

    Both could be national centres for their respective disciplines.

    But for £714million, we’re getting trams instead of buses. This defies common sense in so many ways it is bewildering that noone has pulled the plug yet.

  • Comment number 10.

    What frustrates me is the lack of ambition of the SRU to promote Scottish rugby outwith the borders,Glasgow and Edinburgh. Okay we get the odd International match at Pittodrie and sometimes an U21 game at Mcdiarmid but that aside there's no top class rugby for the youngsters to go and watch live.

    Look at the North West of Scotland, shinty country if you like, where the big,gruff highlanders are supposed to hail from, what does the SRU do to promote rugby there? it's not as if there's any football clubs for rugby to compete with! instead we marginalise the area more with regionalised leagues.

    I read with interest an article about NZ schools rugby, surprisingly there's no great emphasis put on getting schoolboys to bulk up, instead they concentrate on the skills and allow rugby players to form as opposed to the British ideal of getting weightlifters to become rugby players. Having seen the All Blacks in the WC it's clear that those boys have bulked up post school!!!!

    Sport as a whole in Scotland worries me, there's no real investment in facilites or in the ideal of getting our kids to play sport during school hours.

    You're right John, Scotland is turning into a nation of couch potato kids and apathetic parents.

  • Comment number 11.

    I think the regionalisation of rugby in the north was a practical necessity due to the soaring cost of 12 hour return journeys to away fixtures in the central belt and east coast cities. Those teams can't afford it.

  • Comment number 12.

    I agree with the much of what John has said but I'm not sure the ultimate objective is ever achievable or even essential - why not be good at both?! I'm a fan of both football and rugby and in fact both are in my family, although being from the borders, rugby is stronger. However I think the beauty of football is that it is a simple, versatile sport (yet very difficult to master)'s no accident it is the number one sport in the world. It can be played anywhere, from dusty parks in Africa to green fields in Europe.

    However whilst I don't believe Rugby can ever take over from football, I think it can take from it. I've said this many times before but the problems with football in Scotland are huge and the opportunity has to be there for Rugby to steal some fans who are sick of the two horse race and all the bull sh*t, particularly the sort which surrounds the old firm.

    I agree with John's assessment about our countries general attitude to sport and that saddens and angers me. This 'culture' requires the input from everyone; the government, health, media, sporting authorities) or I think it will have a bigger impact on just sport, but on productivity, happiness and health. However in saying all of this and placing the bigger PC/culture issues aside, I think the physicallity of rugby will always appeal to some kids more.

    I realise the populations are completely different, but for some reason the USA springs to mind where kids have a number of sporting options. Some will go for NFL because they're attracted to the toughness, the muscles and the challenge. I think rugby should occupy a similar position next to football in Scotland. At the end of the day there's no point in hiding that rugby is physical so may as well embrace this.

    I think rugby certainly needs to tackle the grass routes better and that has to be state schools. The borders is the only place where this is the case. You do that in the central belt and beyond and you build the foundations for everything else to follow.

  • Comment number 13.

    will rugby ever be the number one sport in Scotland, no. could it be, yes.
    why don't the governing bodies of both Football and Rugby get brought together by the government and be made to agree that one will be played at all levels U18 on a Saturday and the other on a Sunday (you would hope they could see this for themselves but obviously not). This way all children can play both if they want until they're old enough to decide which they prefer. Most good rugby players would make good footballers and vice versa.
    as for the snobbery thing, that's going to take a lot more effort especially in the Cities. the only place that rugby is/was truly wihtout class boundaries, the Borders, has been snubbed by Scottish Rugby on more than one occasion. This really runs the risk of Scotland losing out on a huge amount of untapped talent.
    Will any of the above ever happen, No, as Scottish Rugby is dominated by old school ties. Second tier rugby for Scotland is just round the corner. Once it happens there will be no going back.

  • Comment number 14.

    There are any number of problems with scottish rugby. The midland u15 league has 6 teams but one has not been able to field a team yet in their fixtures..schools in fife have no league but edinburgh schools play against teams from the borders rather than the shorter trip to tag or touch variations to gently introduce new players...

    To expand rugby needs to be taken in to (all) primary schools then continue through to secondary. The pyramid of players needs to have a wider base to produce deeper pool of top players.
    The sru are educating coaches but i'm not so sure about their continuing evaluation...there are huge variations in the quality of coaching club2club, within clubs.

  • Comment number 15.

    I completely agree, John, and I frankly cannot understand how we can favour a game where, next time we have the opportunity to do so, it'll have been 16 years since we last qualified for a major tournament over a sport where we get entry every time and are (usually) competitive in both the world cup and the tournament which occurs EVERY YEAR.

    Sometimes the stupidity of the general media does astound me.

  • Comment number 16.

    10, At the risk of sounding like a broken record playing a familiar tune, I do agree, being a Caledonian myself, and I'm mystified as to why The Borders, a region of 120,000 was expected to support a professional team TWICE!

    While Caledonia, a team from region of 2 million, was cut 10 years ago, when they were getting 6,000 regular fans IN PERTH ALONE.

    Caledonia could have been the Scottish Munster or Ospreys by now!

    We need a Caledonia team that tours the stadiums of the North, like a travelling circus, playing in Inverness, Aberdeen, Dundee, Perth, Stirling and Fife and drawing in all the punters from those areas when they visit.

    Aberdeen, Dundee and Perth would be the home cities for most games, while the European fixtures can go to smaller stadia.

    If they're not in your city, you can always watch them for free on BBC Alba. Being able to catch it on free TV would keep all fans interested, and then wanting to catch it live when the circus comes to town would ensure ticket sales. Every game would be a sell out.

    I notice Mark Dodson has already ruled out a third team. Already he has shot his bolt and completely missed the target, he needs to go.

    There are too many young, talented Scottish players kicking their heels in the Edinburgh/Glasgow reserves waiting for their incumbents to retire in a few years or get hit by a bus tomorrow.

    Meanwhile Wales are blooding 16-18 year olds... and the majority of their squad is U-24 and in the World Cup finals.

  • Comment number 17.

    I played for the North of Scotland U-16 and I’ve been thinking about what more could have been done at that level.

    We need a U-15 regional structure in addition to the U-16, U-18 and U-21.

    It is absolutely VITAL to get MORE of the BEST players in the country playing at REGIONAL level a year EARLIER and getting a step on other nations. Get them together with professional coaches and players. At the age of 14, they should be getting advice on training, skills, diet and tactics from the SRU brain fund.

  • Comment number 18.

    We need EIGHT age grade regions carved in stone:
    The North, Midlands, Edinburgh, Lothian, Glasgow, Strathclyde, the South and the Exiles.

    Edinburgh has more strong rugby schools and Glasgow has the biggest population, so having city + region teams [Edinburgh + Lothian, Glasgow + Strathclyde] will give more players more time in the shop window.

  • Comment number 19.

    Its a little amusing that when we get knocked out of the world cup slightly earlier than we thought we would do we start looking looking for who or what is to blame. Football pundits did exactly the same thing when all the Scottish football teams were knocked out of European competitions early doors. Before we look at school sport, youth rugby development, the weather and facilities lets not forget Scotland went into the world cup seeded below England and Argentina and consequently lost to both and were on the way home.

    School sport - yes there is a large problem with extra-curricular school sport in state schools, not just for rugby but across the board.As you say funding needs to be made available for teachers who give up their own spare time to travel away with school teams, currently we expect teachers to do this out of the kindness of their heart. For me schools should have one afternoon per week which is dedicated to extra-curricular activities, whether it be rugby training/games, football, drama, art etc...

    Primary school sport - nowhere near enough physical education for primary aged children, the minimum 2hrs per week which they are supposed to get is not being met. This is where we are going to get kids hooked on sport sadly to many kids have given up on sport, let a lone rugby long before they get to secondary school. 1 PE teacher per 1 or 2 schools even if this means reducing the number in secondary schools.

    The weather - i think rugby clubs and the sru need to seriously look at moving the game to the summer, from my experience its very difficult to get kids interested in playing club rugby and keeping the ones that are when your coaching them how to catch and pass in the pouring rain with the temperature closing in around the minus mark. Not fun for a senior player definitely not fun for a 7 year old. Is it any wonder we do no produce creative players, look at Australia ,like us not a massive pool of rugby union players to pick from but they have 3 players in their starting lineup who can play 10 and have matt giteau who couldn't even make the squad.

    Facilities - could always be improved but in my area transporting teams both club and school is a bigger issue.

    Could rugby ever replace football as the countries number 1 sport? nope not a chance, and the reason being is media attention. The coverage of football in the papers and tv has a massive influence on youngsters being interested in the game.Kids would rather follow a team in England whose stadium they will probably never visit in their life than follow Glasgow or Edinburgh.

    Are Scottish people soft - i wouldn't say soft but we probably are quite lazy in comparison to a nation like Australia

    I really like the idea of these sport hubs, while it would be great if rugby was more popular in Scotland i think first and foremost we need to get our nation more active and enjoying a wide range of sports. Get youngsters into athletic clubs and teach them how to run, jump and throw so when they do play a sport they already have the basic skills, it worries me the number of secondary aged kids who i see in rugby teams who struggle to run properly or perform a lunge.

  • Comment number 20.

    i like the caladonia thing. i have said before on here we really need two more pro teams in scotland to be able to compete in the professional game. pro teams can only be supported by ample populations, the finances dictate so and the borders example proves it cannot work without it. might there be a place for a borders team working on the same principal as caladonia and rotate around ayr/ killmarnock/dumfries/galashiels?

  • Comment number 21.

    I now live in England (my wife is English) and I was home visiting, and I went to the local miners club with my dad. The tv was on and it was Saturday. I switched over for the Calcutta Cup game and Scotland had a 5 metre scrum. The famous back row of Finlay Calder, Derek White and John Jeffrey were in their pomp. Mike Teague detached himself from the scrum as he was worried about the back row from Scotland - one almighty heave and we were pressing for the line.......... and someone turned the TV over for the next horse race.

    Sadly, this is the reality of the Central Belt - no interest whatsoever in rugby. We have no chance of winning the Football World Cup, but with work, we have a chance at the rugby world cup. Yes, I know at the moment we are a long way from that - but we are in the top 10 in the world at rugby, a long way from that at football. If we can get people interested, and get more children playing, we can definitely make ourselves a world force.

    Aside from this, a Wales/NZ final would be a great thing - 2 real rugby loving nations. Oddly enough, I still fancy the Wallabies, but really hope that the Welsh win it.

  • Comment number 22.

    There are some corners of Scotland where rugby rules. At our local school, if you are not in the rugby team – you are nothing. My daughter was a commonwealth medalist (whilst still at the school) but she was generally rated below the magic sponge carrier for the 1st XV.

    With the exception of a few enclaves, sport in Scotland is facing rough times: events at the Scottish Schools Athletics championships with only one entry, one sport at the UK School Games unable to muster a full Scottish team and some athletes unable to train because there is a chronic shortage of specialist coaches for their event. We are undoubtedly in danger of becoming a nation of couch potatoes, or more accurately a nation of two parts. A minority that is extremely serious about playing sports and other outdoor activities, and a much larger part that is developing a symbiotic relationship with their couch and/or computer/phone keyboard.

    The solution has to come from government, doing more than just paying lip service to sport (real investment in facilities and coaches), and from parents deciding that little James/Helen needs to get of facebook and get some competitive sporting exercise. I blame my generation (forty somethings). In our desire to be liberal and kind we have made it far too easy for our children to sit around and do nothing. And in this, we have been aided and abetted by the many schools and decision makers who have decided that competition is disruptive and bad, and better that children participate in activities where everybody is a winner. Bah … Humbug.

    But even if the decline is sport is reversed, rugby may not benefit as much as some other sports because there will always be some parents who do not want their kids to participate in a high energy contact sport where the professional team look like gym monkeys.

  • Comment number 23.

    (Or how to improve school rugby, the playing pool, grow the game, build the culture, boost development and increase fans, gates and turnover in one fell swoop.)

    There should be 8 Scottish regions, and three school age grades carved in stone.

    The North, Midlands, Edinburgh, Lothian, Glasgow, Strathclyde, the South and the Exiles.

    The U-15, U-16 and U-18s.

    This will be the cream, focus and pinnacle of school rugby culture in Scotland for the long term future.

    Each of the age grades should have a Final Day on a Saturday at Murrayfield. The 4 fixtures between the 8 districts squads [8 x 22] will give 176 active participants the opportunity to play IN Murrayfield Stadium.

    Imagine how many family and friends each of those 176 kids will bring if the district final is inside the national stadium as opposed to a flooded bog in the corner of some bleak windswept playing fields in Aberdeen as it was for me.

    Our U-16 district final had a crowd of 5 mums, 2 men and a dog. If it had been in Murrayfield, my mum would have dragged the entire clan out and made a weekend of coming to Edinburgh.

    If tickets were free, families can bring as many supporters as they can transport, the SRU will have a sizeable captive audience of kids, parents and grandparents, whole communities coming together. The SRU can use this opportunity to advertise upcoming fixtures for their pro-teams on the screens all day, give away prizes, have fun contests, give the fans a chance to meet Edinburgh, Glasgow and Scotland professionals, see the museum and the gift shop, appreciate the history and culture of the game, buy merchandise and commemorative souvenirs.

    The vast majority of rugby playing kids have never been to Murrayfield. Win or lose, giving them the chance to play in their national stadium in front of their friends and family will be something they never forget. Put the match highlights on STV or BBC ALBA so everyone who didn’t make it gets to see it too.

    If you had 8 teams coming together for the District Finals, you could look at all the kids in one place, see it as a trial day for the national side, give fans the chance to see their next generation of players, have them talking about who should get the draft. The draft is a huge talking point in North America and it should be the same here too. The kids will be playing for selection in the Scotland squad. THAT will get the families out. Do this three times, once for each age-grade.

    The kids will bring their supporters and get more invested in the game. It is the biggest, most beautiful stadium in Scotland, it has enormous drawing power and it is empty for 11 months of the year.

    What’s three days? Give those kids a chance to tell everyone they know that they’ve played there. Let them know how much you appreciate their efforts and reward their success in getting picked for their district with a seat at the top table for a day. Give them some great memories that they’ll be sharing with everyone they meet for the rest of their lives.

    Makes some memories, and grow the next generation of, not just players, but passionate fans of the game.

  • Comment number 24.

    John, I think we're making some headway. In the central region we have almost doubled the amount of junior registered players in the last 5 years. This has been the result of some concerted work by the Development Officers and the guys at the councils getting into schools and promoting the game.

    This still doesn't address the main problem in that our 'conversion rate' in non traditional rugby areas / backgrounds is poor. We need to get rugby introduced into state schools and then get the state school kids into the clubs on Saturdays and Sundays. Another plus might involve getting schools and clubs to work together (it might be a win if the schools desisted in playing to their own rules) for the benefit of the kids rather than to their own egos. Finally, a big winner - summer rugby. You've no idea how hard it is to teach a 10 year how to pass and catch when they are soaking wet and freezing cold.

    There is a future. Its just going to take a huge effort for those involved in Scottish rugby.

  • Comment number 25.

    The problem with our game isn't the physical side though, is it John? We matched up to the tough English, Georgian and Argentinian packs, although arguably the last minute tries might point to some work needed in tackling.

    Where we fell down was finding our way to the line, which more often than not doesn't involve the rough stuff. De Luca dropping the ball a few yards out, and a set of backs that are more comfortable running at the sideline than getting some angles for space are the problem.

    Maybe some more socially acceptable touch rugby is the answer. You don't need to worry about high tackles if you can spot the gap and run into space...

  • Comment number 26.

    Contentious question alert …

    Is rugby still a sport for all shapes and sizes?

    Most international players these days look uniformly big (with the exception of 9 & 10)

    What does a speedy teenage open-side flanker of average height do when he is told that he is not tall enough to be a flanker in the modern game? Does he change position, try and bulk up or change to a different sport. Rugby is a contact sport, so it makes sense to pick on size – doesn’t it? Kids are put into positions based on their body shapes at a certain age and then have to live with that arbitrary selection for pretty much the rest of their rugby playing days – because it is pretty difficult to change position at a later stage.

    Wales has a rugby pitch in every village. Scotland has a golf course in every village.

  • Comment number 27.

    As somebody on the outside looking in the main issue facing Scottish Sport is that you all think that it is somebody else's problem to solve. Here we have a former player and coach saying that the Government and Schools should act now. John, as a former player and lover of rugby, what are you doing to promot sport in your local area? What is your rugby club, West of Scotland I believe, doing to promote rugby amongst the youth of their area?

    I like what ScotsSevensNutJob idea of public investment in sports facilities. Where I live and work it happens. We had a new swimming centre open close by earlier this year and in spring next year our village will have a new sports hall. We already have a thriving soccer club, tennis club and cycling club, all with very good facilities of their own. No great interest in rugby here but our nearest club does have access to publicly funded and operated stadium facilities and pitches when needed.

    John, if you want something to happen it is up to you to make it happen simply because nobody else will.

  • Comment number 28.


    It's all about parents and teachers!

    From a very early age we took our son to football and as soon as we could to the local rugby club on a Sunday. The enthusiasm of both sets were of the highest standards.

    We need people to put back in and also just share there passion for whatever sport that may be.

    My son also went to a comprehensive school in Glasgow and through the dedication of the teachers he played both football and rugby.

    Yes I guess that making and giving time in all schools the ability to give more time to sport will eventually give results, however, without the passion given by coaches all over then we would be even worse off. As parents we also have an obligation to give our time to be he best taxi service you can get by taking your kids and others to there given sport.

    It goes without saying that rugby should be more available in state schools and I think that's where our Pro teams have a duty to sell the game.

    The other lucky bit for me is after all this time of going here and there is now my son is a professional sportsman, are we not lucky John?

    Success breads success but to get there we need the proper coaching and that's another can of worms.

    So heres to the people that give there time freely, I can only but thank the ones that have helped my son to get and live his dream.

  • Comment number 29.

    Have to agree with 10. The Caledonia team needs re-started. There are multiple feeder clubs in Aberdeen and Dundee, and plenty of rugby clubs in the rural areas to provide players: Mackie Academy, Huntly, Garioch, Highland, Deesside, DHSFP, AGSFP's, Aberdeenshire, etc etc. The SRU needs to be make the pro game national, not just central belt...the last time the Scotland rugby team played in Aberdeen at Pittodrie it was a 20,000 sell out - does that not tell the SRU that there is an appetite for pro-rugby in the Caledonia region? Come on SRU, wake up and do your job - bring pro rugby to the whole nation.

  • Comment number 30.

    Not true stewart #10 some of us have been saying this since Scottish Rugby began to make a mess with the shambolic and embarrasing move to Pro rugby. I love watching rugby but would not pay to go and watch Edinburgh especially when they continue to play in an empty stadium with no atmosphere. Further some of us have been practising what we preach every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday by coaching and refereeing. This along with trying to find adequate facilities to train in during dark winter nights, sponsors for kit etc etc.

  • Comment number 31.

    The problem with all the usual suggestions is that they cost money and there is none.

    However playing in the summer costs the same as playing in Dec, Jan, Feb. That would be a start, it would improve skills, and attract more youngsters.

    Re the comment that the SRU does nothing for rugby outside of the central belt. I coached in the Highlands and the SRU had a superb development manager Brian Bell who worked very hard to assist clubs, yes we needed more money but on the resources available a huge effort is being made by a lot of people who give their time for nothing.

  • Comment number 32.

    It all starts with school. More of the curriculum at primary school needs to be devoted to sports and exercise. I would make it 45 mins a day as a minimum, an hour better still. Mini rugby at P1-P3 is largely about playing rugby-orientated games. Other sports will have similar and the more kids play different sports-orientated games, the more they will be inclined to join sporting clubs. All sports will benefit.

    As for rugby specifically, as a Mini coach, I can say with some certainty that each year in the P1-P3 age group we lose kids because it is just too cold in the winter months. Don't give me the "we need to toughen 'em up" nonsense - when kids are crying because their hands and feet are frozen stiff, is it any wonder they don't come back?

    Start Minis training in late August, have Jan and Feb off, then return from March to June.

  • Comment number 33.

    Yes it can. But it will take major changes.
    Scottish football is suffering from its dire product, its sectarian image and a multitude of different issues.
    Football fans are staying away in their droves and prefer shopping with wifes\girlfriends on a Saturday afternoon than sitting in a half-empty stadium in the pouring rain in mid December.

    Summer rugby for kids would be a great start as the SFA have done for kids football. Better weather (well not as cold most of the time!!!) brings the kids out. The grass is growing so the parks repair themselves quicker and won’t turn into the mud baths so many municipal parks do during inclement weather. So the parks should be better in theory!!

    Expansion of mini-rugby.
    County teams going on to district teams, a proper pathway to the top teams
    4 pro teams Edinburgh, Glasgow, Borders and a Northern\Caledonia team with more access for kids to be inspired by the elite.
    Give local schools free tickets to the pro-teams, adults will be dragged along and will actually find out it’s safer to take kids to rugby than football.
    Better marketing, the current marketing of the two pro-teams at the moment is really poor.

    It won’t be easy but it can happen.

  • Comment number 34.

    Some great comments, My first son was born i phoned a well known Scottish coach,and told him to keep his eye out for him.....he had a signed Scotland ball in his cot,second son called him Murry after Murryfield, years before MR Beckham....none of them play, or have ever even tried at School, why not me teaching,well i work away....nor do they play a School parents night, i went to apoligise for my sons lack of interest,hows the rugby team doing,the football team,only the football team still going, and if the teacher runs after school chess,photography they will be paid. after school sport,teachers volenteer.
    What struck me when i was working in Hawick,Rugby was first on the sport reports,and every one wanted to play first team rugby,there was pride in there club and community.
    Will we ever see that in the west, no ....Rugby needs its profile raised, a sucsessful Scotland,and the SRU needs a kick up the bahookie,and help the small clubs,who buy the tickets and then get dumped when the big games come along.

  • Comment number 35.

    Give 10 children a football and they'll soon start a game of football (jumpers for goalposts and all that). Give those same 10 children a rugby ball and they'll pass it around, perhaps kick it a bit. Then they'll probably get bored and look for a football.
    However, give them a teacher/adult and a rugby ball and a game of touch rugby can be arranged in next to no time.
    My point here is that children can emulate their footballing heroes with just a football. It takes a little bit more for them to be able to replicate the heroics of Lamont, Evans, Paterson etc.
    As such, a decent PR effort and investment is needed to further enhance the image of rugby in Scotland.
    Get coverage of Edinburgh and Glasgow away from BBC Alba and on to BBC2 Scotland. Investment isn't just money, it is time. If you take your children to rugby practice, don't just sit in the car when it is raining or stand on the touchline, ask the club how you can get involved. Learn how to run the line, be a ballboy, help carry out the tackle bags, make the tea. Whatever, I am sure it will get support from the club management. I know that there is the need for Disclosure checks to be done which is where the government and SRU can do their part by paying for these checks so that the rugby clubs can get on with the business of creating tomorrow's Scotland team.
    After all, when Scotland play, we all play.

  • Comment number 36.

    Of the 32 players used on Graham Mourie's AB grand slam tour in the late 70's, 30 could have played for Scotland (under the current qualification rules) - hell! they even had a Maori called Fraser.

    I come from the Western Isles, and it really frustrates me to see natural 2R oxen blundering around football fields, when they should be dominating lines-out. My uncles could have formed a fantastic front row, but none of them ever touched a rugby ball.

    More than anything else, snobbery (both real and inverted) has been, and remains, at the root of our inability to reach our true rugby potential.

    In addition, professionalism has had a detrimental effect - it used to be the case that an international season was a major stepping stone to success in one's chosen profession. Now, it means (at best) a decade of good earning, after which the player has to start a career aged 30, or more. The wise choice must be to take the long view. Cross, Taylor and Murray have professional qualifications that can stand them in good stead, but, of the current generation, there are few others.

    If we are to return to the top echelons, then we have to get the Highlands and Islands playing the game.

  • Comment number 37.

    I am passionate about rugby and so much so i went to the world cup to support scotland and went to all their games.
    But around 90% of players that are picked for scotland all come from private schools. If we actually want to grow the game in scotland we need to stop this as people get picked on the school they play for or how much money people have and what size you are.
    I know of a lot players who have been unlucky to have made it to next level of scottish rugby because they went to the wrong school or club, also they were smaller and were actually told they were to small to play and the position was given to someone a few inches taller.
    Scotland have to get rid of their sizest nature and start giving everyone a chance as i know of people who have quit or moved to play somewhere else for these reasons i have mentioned as they knew they were not going to get anywhere in scottish rugby. if we actually want to improve we need to get rid of this attitude.
    Also we need to start getting rugby into schools and even if it is just indoor dugby working on basic handling and playing different games it will start getting people interested i was going to coach indoors in a school i was teaching at but was unable to as i could have only done it after school on the nights i had training on. if we get it into schools ad just give the names on local clubs in the area and their training nights and sent letters back home to the parents there is no reason why we can't grow rugby in scotland.

  • Comment number 38.

    21 August to 30 October
    4 March to 17 June

    Those season dates are when most mini clubs (I think a couple don't do it - correct me if I'm wrong) in the Borders are now playing their rugby. The club reps got together, worked it out and changed the season. You might ask why they're not playing through July but the disruption caused by holidays would make it rather difficult (though not impossible...). Despite that much hailed change, there's still the weather to contend with but at least in the rain it's not freezing! The winter break can move indoors for other activities so as not to lose the kids. So, it can be done and is BEING done.

    As for clashing with football, is that true everywhere? In my town, rugby is on Sunday mornings. Football, Fridays after school. Simple. My son (aged 7 plays both). So, Standing on the shoulders of Jim Spence @1, can't the rugby club change its day? Football won't shift, so it'll have to be rugby.

    I agree school and parents are the key. SRU development officers are in the schools - certainly our one is in my son's primary school. They are doing their best. Parents should encourage their kids. Parents should get involved. I don't want to say hey! look at me! (but maybe I should) but my son does rugby, football, tae kwondo and swimming. As I said above, he's 7 and is LOVING it! That is Sunday morning, Tuesday evening and Friday afternoon (swimming and football). He wants to try other sports. Oh, and he does his homework too. I also help coach my local club's minis. Seeing my son play his first competitive rugby match recently was sheer pleasure both as dad and coach. And what's more, he was so fired up by that experience. The key is to instill the sport habit. So, even if neither of my boys (4 year old itching to do something) ends up being a professional, my hope is they will keep up the habit well into their adult life. I feel I will have done my bit if they do that.

    As for getting hurt, touch rugby, with its emphass on skills and finding space not bodies, should be promoted more to parents as well as the fact that age grade rugby is strictly structured, with tackling, for example, only coming in at a certain age. But parents need to KNOW that! Kids get hurt at football too!

    Rugby has other attractions. Its ethics for instance (OK, let's stay off England...). I really was struck by how after a tough but enteraining game the Pumas and Kiwis lined up and walked past each other shaking hands, hugging, back-slapping, etc. How often do you see that in football? There's a lot to commend the game, but parents need to KNOW that.

    As for snobbery, well, I think that is perception more than reality. Some city private schools don't help, true, but they are in a minority. Their FP (actually 'open') clubs are doing badly in the Premiership 1 (and Watsonians were even relgated to P2, which is currently topped by Stew. Mel.). In P1, the top, what 8 or 9 clubs are all open clubs. Mixed membership at the most. In the Borders the game is certainly much more egalitarian though in some ways a different type of snobbery still exists in some quarters (real borderers versus incomers, sort of stuff).

  • Comment number 39.

    I agree with ScotsSevensNutjob, we need to put money into the facilities. It seems to me that Sports Scotland fund people no sport. They pay for administrators to run the sports; it’s a jobs creation service rather than funding the growth of sports. Give the money to the local groups run by dedicated enthusiasts to promote sports in their areas. I am willing to bet their efforts would be more fruitful than that of an autocratic centralised bureaucracy that are looking after their careers first with the sport coming a poor second.

  • Comment number 40.

    I just finished watching BBC News – Sports, which was a pathetic round-up of international Basket Ball., Cricket and Soccer sandals..., waiting with great anxiety on the crochet scores and woman’s senior balls, oh and the hunting club results and the annual donkey race... meanwhile, there’s some serious sport going on in New Zealand and just because old Blighty is out of the picture, it doesn’t mean the rest of the world are not interested. Extremely poor journalism.

  • Comment number 41.

    According to SportScotland report:

    Rugby Union received £943,502 (£896,925 direct to governing body {SRU} plus £46,577 additional) in 2010/2011 – making it the 3rd largest recipient after swimming and golf.

  • Comment number 42.

    Maybe a way to re-introduce representative rugby into the Borders and North&Midlands would be to bring back the Inter-district championships (Warriors and Edinburgh could field 2nd string side and give the young squad guys some more rugby) whilst the Borders and N&M could be the Scottish reps in the B&I cup.

    That would get some of the players in the Borders and N&M regions games above club level but below Rabodirect level which would be a good way of them cutting their teeth and proving they're good enough to be pros, whilst at the same time the SRU are not lumbered with operating costs of more pro-sides.

    I'm sure the crowds would turn out in those areas to get right behind the teams.

  • Comment number 43.

    Two things are key here if we are to make a difference. Firstly school rugby is key however not just a DO going into a school and doing 6weeks and disappearing their needs to be a continued focus leading to kids playing games. In our region the DO has done a brilliant job organising each school to come to the local clubs on a Friday afternoon to play each other on a regular basis suddenly more kids playing rugby regularly and more kids joining my club under 14 team. A simple model created by a good DO whom works for the SRU,replicate it would be a simple first step. The second is to encourage clubs financially to support kids rugby a lot of older members see kids as an inconvenience rather than the future first 15 however if a great youth setup resulted in improved facilities and funding I believe would focus the minds of many.


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