SCOTLAND’S Grand Slam winner Iain Milne fears for the future of Scottish talent and insists that he would like to see world rugby’s three-year residency rule scrapped.
Milne, widely regarded as one of Scotland’s greatest tighthead props, was speaking at the media launch of the third Glengoyne Auld Enemy Dinner, to be held at The Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh, and which will raise money for the Erskine Hospital charity and its support of over 1,100 Scottish war veterans, widows and families.
Former Scotland back row Stuart Reid launched the dinner in 2012 to bring together Scotland and England players from across the eras, and it proved a success at the Balmoral and the Dorchester Hotel in London earlier this year, raising over £50,000 for military charities.
The 2014 dinner will toast the 30th anniversary of Scotland’s 1984 Grand Slam and Milne, who supports several charity events, agreed with Reid that it was important to toast the country’s rich rugby history.
But, when it came to looking to the future, the prop known as “The Bear”, became a bit more grizzly.
He said: “My concerns looking forward are around our development of players from the bottom up.
“For a start, the three-year residence ruling is absolute nonsense. In what other sport or part of your life would you move to another country for three years and then become a bona fide national of that country? It’s not right.”
Milne was referring to the rule in rugby whereby a player who has not played international rugby is free to play for any nation in the world after he has lived in that country for three years. It is widely exploited in the modern game, with New Zealand, Australia and England having called up many players from the South Sea Islands through residency, and Scotland also benefiting recently, with Dutchman Tim Visser becoming a Scot.
The SRU have employed scouts to scour the world and fill gaps where Scotland’s development system is failing. They start by hunting Scots-qualified players, and if unsuccessful move to other talents who could become Scottish after three years.
Glasgow forwards Mike Cusack and Josh Strauss could be viewed as “project players” on the three-year route to a Scotland call-up while, at Edinburgh, WP Nel, Perry Parker, Izak van der Westhuizen, Wicus Blaauw, Ollie Atkins, Ben and Alex Toolis, James Hilterbrand, Cornell du Preez, Mike Coman and Piers Francis have all arrived from overseas in the past 14 months.
Some are already Scots-qualified and some earmarked to help strengthen Scotland’s pool of professional talent in the future.
In Milne’s day Scotland teams were selected from as many as 14 national club sides, as well as exiles, but the problem now is the small pool of pro talent housed in just two city squads, and in a country of just 12,000 or so adult rugby players. So Scotland needs foreign quality to be competitive and, while coach Alan Solomons is feeling the heat as Edinburgh struggle, few are arguing in the west about Strauss, Cusack or Sean Maitland.
But Milne believes that, when it becomes too many, rather than strengthen Scotland’s talent pool it will diminish it by reducing opportunities for native talent to progress. “It’s quality rather than quantity we need to bring on our players,” he said.
“Ulster went through a revolution like this and they brought in two or three superstars, and maybe that’s what we should be doing, going back to the Todd Blackadder days – someone who brought on the players around him.
“When you bring all these foreign boys in, how do the Scottish boys know where they sit in the situation, and how do they feel about it?
“I feel sorry for a lot of club players at the moment. I believe that each of the Premiership clubs have two or three boys who, if given the opportunity, could play pro rugby.
“Fraser Brown and Kevin Bryce joined Glasgow from Heriot’s, and Murray Douglas and Jason Hill are two more I reckon if given the opportunity could also make it. And that’s just our club. There are clubs like Melrose and Gala, and all the clubs, who have players like that. They just need exposed to it.
“I just want to see the whole game built from the bottom up, with a broad base of the pyramid at the bottom. The numbers of players playing the game there is crucial because it leads eventually to more players coming through the system.
“We also have to bring through our coaches more, as Kenny Murray has done going from Ayr to Glasgow.”
Milne acknowledged that it was a big step from club to pro rugby, but added: “The gulf is big simply because you’re comparing professionals with amateurs.
“But what I’m saying is that there are players with the talent that, if they were put in the same environment as the professionals, they would step up to the grade.
“It is difficult to step straight from club to pro games but Fraser Brown made that step-up last year, making his debut for Scotland just after signing for Glasgow but when he’d played most of the season for Heriot’s.”
More information on the Auld Enemy Dinner is available at: www.theauldenemy.co.uk; and on Erskine Hospital at: www.erskine.org.uk.