The SRU has said that an unsatisfactory “performance environment” is the reason it has decided to end its partnership with London Scottish.
The Exiles club is furious that the link-up, which was announced with great fanfare just four months ago, has been abruptly pulled just a week before pre-season, leaving them scrambling to fill the ten places in their squad expected to come from the Scottish Rugby system.
Reports at the weekend had suggested the SRU had concerns about the business model and viability of London Scottish, which was angrily refuted by Exiles’ chairman Sir David Reid in a strongly worded press release yesterday.
A Scottish Rugby statement said: “After a period of review and reflection (at the end of the season) the Scottish Rugby Board decided not to deepen the relationship with London Scottish further as the performance environment in place was not sufficiently developed to offer the player pathway we had envisaged.
“It is disappointing that despite the best efforts of both parties we have been unable to progress the player development pathway as we had both hoped. We will stay close to London Scottish remain supportive of their strategic ambitions.”
The agreement in January saw the Scottish Rugby head of youth Sean Lineen and the former Edinburgh flanker Roddy Grant parachuted in as director of rugby and forwards coach respectively. The move was viewed as a mutually-beneficial opportunity to give players who weren’t getting game time with Glasgow or Edinburgh, as well as academy prospects, a chance to play in the English second-tier Championship. Players such as George Horne, Rory Hughes and Robbie Fergusson had spells at the Athletic Ground in Richmond this year.
At the time of the link-up SRU chief executive Mark Dodson described it as an “exciting partnership” and Sir David, the former chairman of Tesco, said “the relationship between the union and London Scottish has never been stronger”.
However, when the SRU cut their proposed secondment of players from 14 to ten it is believed that London Scottish wanted to cut its contribution to membership of the plush Lemsbury Hotel, which was proposed as a training facility.
At the weekend an unnamed Murrayfield insider cited concerns over the long-term financial viability of London Scottish and that drew an angry response from the club yesterday.
“The SRU can have no concerns whatsoever about our finances,” said Sir David. “The SRU Board has known all along that our model, as for most Championship clubs, requires investors to step up and support the operational costs of running the club and since 2008 our great group of over 140 investors has contributed over £5m to the cause. They will be bridging the gap as usual next season, though we have been closing the gap and need to raise much raise less than in previous years.
“Remember, this partnership was the SRU’s idea in the first place, and they offered to second 14 players as well as coaching and support staff. We therefore budgeted accordingly to fund fewer players and instead to cover the extra costs of accommodation and better training facilities. When, only last month, the SRU revised the offer to only ten players, and none of them senior players, London Scottish had to find extra players at extra cost. With pre-season a few weeks away, our budget and planning were suddenly blown off course.
“We therefore questioned the support costs we were due to cover, and sought to negotiate this point. However, we agreed last week to find the additional funds, only to be told the SRU felt they could not justify their own expenditure on the project.”
London Scottish president Rod Lynch added: “It would be an understatement to say we are disappointed. The club has worked tirelessly for more than a year since we reached agreement, to bring this partnership to fruition. We were committed to playing our part in full over the next three seasons, which included providing finance to support the partnership. We maintain the Championship is the right place to introduce talented young players to the rigours of professional rugby within the exile Scottish family.
“We believe the partnership was the way forward for Scottish rugby. The increasing co-operation, with coaching support and young players on loan, seemed an exciting foretaste of what was to come. Instead, Scottish rugby, and the talented young Scots who want to play for their country will be the poorer.”