SCOTTISH Rugby Union chief executive Mark Dodson is back in Scotland, no doubt contrasting the sunny delights of a trip to Japan with Glasgow in a Scottish winter, but apparently steeled in his desire to find the best people to take Scottish rugby forward.
The CEO is keeping his cards close to his chest, insisting that he will brief the media post-Christmas on his fact-finding mission to Japan, a new approach to selling Scottish rugby in the Far East, and his thinking behind replacing Andy Robinson long-term.
However, he is at the same crossroads now that many predecessors have reached and which could effectively make or break his career in the Murrayfield hotseat. He has two key roles he is now seeking to fill – the Scotland head coach position and that of director of rugby. Scott Johnson has agreed to take on the coaching mantle for the RBS Six Nations and summer tournament in South Africa, but this approach was taken to allow Dodson and the SRU board the time they feel they require to source the best possible candidate for the head coach position.
They are also acutely aware that Graham Lowe’s departure from the SRU Director of Performance Rugby chair last month leaves a deeper void than that left by Robinson, in respect of its broader remit and influence.
One of the key failings of the Gordon McKie regime at Murrayfield, one that covered six years, was the lack of a strong driving force in rugby; the character who knew the game inside out, understood Scottish rugby from the grassroots to the Test arena and was able to effect positive change. So head coaches became inter alia directors of rugby, the main influencers at board level – and the ability to see the whole game, and to challenge the head coach’s ideas effectively, dissipated.
Dodson appears to get that and accepts that the challenge for him and his board in the coming months is to scour the country and the globe to find out if there are people capable of both improving the Scotland team results but also leading an improvement of the Scottish game as a whole.
One assumes that the New Zealand dialling code is now well known to the chief executive and if the likes of Wayne Smith or Sir Graham Henry, key figures in New Zealand’s domination across the past decade, were available, they would top his Santa list. Argentina advisor Henry may become available in 2013 and Smith too, but the latter has a contract at least until June with the Chiefs of Waikato.
If a character such as that was available, and affordable, the question then is would they be best employed as a director of rugby, to bring the knowledge and authority to Murrayfield that has been sorely lacking for much of the past decade, or are they best brought in as head coach to guide the national team?
What Dodson has made clear is that he accepts the assertions such as those made in The Scotsman this week by former internationalists John Rutherford, Scott Hastings and Jason White, that the SRU needs to rediscover its Scottish voice. Former president Ian McLauchlan and his successor Alan Lawson are making the same noises in the boardroom, and so the challenge is to establish where that voice can be found, and for what role.
There is also an acute awareness of the lack of opportunity for coaches to push themselves through the levels, and develop, not least in the fact that there are so few home-bred candidates in the running for either post. It appears that Dodson is determined to restart the conveyor belt with appointments at various levels in 2013, and should he opt for a big-name director of rugby that may open the door to a less-experienced Scottish coach.
While Scotland does have more talent than 2012 may have suggested, the scale of the challenge of finding a head coach and director of rugby who can work in tandem to bring success, and give fresh inspiration to the development from within, cannot be underestimated. But it is encouraging at least to hear that there is similar thinking inside Murrayfield to that across the wider community in Scotland.