CROSS-code legend Alan Tait believes decisions like capping Bath youngster Tom Heathcote before he committed to England are a factor in the turmoil engulfing Scottish rugby today.
While Tait, capped 27 times by Scotland, stopped short of outright condemnation of a move that occurred towards the end of a 15-21 defeat by Tonga that ultimately cost coach Andy Robinson his job, he made it clear it was a sign of the deeper malaise where local talent is forced to play second fiddle to imports.
“The selection policy and everything underneath the Scotland system needs to be looked into, including Edinburgh and Glasgow, who have not kicked on as they were intended to do.
“I look at the Edinburgh team today and don’t recognise a lot of them; they’ve even brought up players up from the likes of Wales when we have our own youngsters to bring through.
“They’ve gone backwards and it is all down to where we start players when they are young and the systems that help them.”
After referring to the fast tracking of former England Under-20 stand off Heathcote – “I thought from the start that it was a big, big call to bring in a kid like Heathcote in above everybody else” – Tait, pictured below, highlighted instances of neglected homespun talent.
“I’ve been to watch Gala where George Graham is doing a good coaching job and Lee Millar has been outstanding. I cannot understand how Lee is not in the [pro] system. He is a stand-off which is what we need, especially when Greig Laidlaw is out of position and should be a scrum half. If we have a 10 [stand-off] we should be bring him through. I can’t understand why he isn’t in the Scottish system. That is where the biggest problem lies.”
Another example, according to Tait, concerns Grant Shiels, the Kelso-reared Newcastle prop who was called into Scotland training and then released even though an availability crisis was unfolding in his position.
“I don’t want to go too much into Grant Shiels’s situation as it was one of the conversations I had with Andy Robinson, but Grant has been brought up the right way and would not let Scotland down. He is a mixture of David Sole and Allan Jacobsen and well respected in England’s Premiership. He was ready for the next step. There is a breakdown somewhere in getting our talent through and I wonder what the hell is going on. When I was at Kelso we had five teams. Now the club struggle to put out two.”
Tait, 48, was part of the Scotland backroom team until moved on by Robinson’s predecessor, Frank Hadden, and, until recently, was head coach at Newcastle Falcons, giving him plenty of experience to offer.
“I feel I will be a better coach from my time at Newcastle and if the right role came up I’d be interested in returning to the game, but it would be as an assistant.
“In appointing a head coach, Scottish rugby needs a reality check, and instead of searching for a high-profile coach who then comes over and finds he hasn’t got his Sonny-Bill Williams, Ma’a Nonus and Dan Carters to work with. We need to get somebody who knows our game here and the players.
“Bryan Redpath, Carl Hogg and Sean Lineen should all be high on the list and, if I were asked to take charge of backs, attack or defence, I’d be interested.”