SRU chief executive Mark Dodson has defended the decision to recruit almost a full team of foreigners for Glasgow and Edinburgh in the past two seasons in a bid to strengthen the depth of internationals.
Glasgow have seven players in their first-team squad who are not Scottish-qualified, though prop Mike Cusack and Josh Strauss, the No 8, will be in 2014 and 2015 respectively. Edinburgh have signed around 15 foreign players in the past 18 months, some of whom, such as scrum-half Grayson Hart, are Scottish-qualified and others who will never be.
But some are in the controversial “project player” category that uses the three-year residency ruling to “naturalise” a player, including recent addition Cornell du Preez, the flanker signed from Southern Kings.
It has been part of a plan concocted by Dodson with Scott Johnson, the union’s director of rugby, and head of recruitment Sean Lineen, and the CEO believes it is vital to create the level of competition necessary to make Scotland, and Scottish teams, competitive again on the world stage.
Speaking at the launch of a new autumn Test sponsorship deal with ticket firm viagogo, Dodson said: “When you look at what happens round the rest of the world, what happens in England and even with Tim Visser coming over here, this is a global marketplace. We either play our part in that or we don’t.
“Much though he [Du Preez] has followed Alan Solomons over here to Edinburgh you can’t blame the boy for having a look at playing for Scotland. You saw the quality in his performance against Munster and he is only going to get better. We have got him young and he is a high- quality player.”
He was clear, however, that, contrary to some opinion, it is not an exercise in roping in any player who wishes an easy route to international rugby, but part of a clear vision.
“Our criteria for bringing people across is that they either have to be very, very different from anything we have got here that will leave some ‘IP’ [intellectual property] with Scottish rugby when they have gone, or they have to be qualified or can qualify for Scotland.
“You will find that most of the people we are bringing over are Scottish-qualified or can be Scottish-qualified. It is their choice. I don’t want to bring people over and expect them to show allegiance to Scotland straight away. We bought them primarily to do a job for Edinburgh but have made sure we are buying people who are either as good as people who have left, or better, and can have qualifications for Scotland if possible.”
It works both ways, of course. Asked about the future of Tommy Allan, the Scotland age-grade internationalist named in Italy’s autumn Tests squad, he admitted that Scotland could hardly complain if he was attracted to the Azzurri.
“We are clear,” he said. “He is part of our plans and remains part of our plans. We talked to him the Thursday before the Italy squad was announced and Tommy has some choices to make, and we respect the choices he makes.
“If he wants to come back to Scotland, we would be opened minded to that; if he wants to go to Italy we wish him all the best in the world.
“If you look at the number of players coming over to Scotland from their own country it would be hypocritical if we were outraged when somebody else makes that same move. We have got to be mature and say it is entirely Tommy’s decision.”
Dodson was speaking at the unveiling of a three-year autumn Test deal with viagogo. The firm, which styles itself “the world’s largest ticket marketplace”, has paid an undisclosed sum to the SRU and will take over the “second-hand” sales of all tickets for internationals.
Dodson stated that there would be no effect on the union’s current ticketing procedure, with the ticket office staff remaining at Murrayfield and clubs and supporters still having the same access to tickets.
However, viagogo, who state that their involvement cuts down on black market sales and rip-offs, will now officially take on the selling of all unsold tickets, the price of which will depend on market value.
THE SCOTSMAN RUGBY SHOW IN ASSOCIATION WITH GINGER GROUSE