Rugby: SRU launch search for new national sevens coach
THE SRU has made another change in its coaching staff with the effective demotion of Graham Shiel and launch of a search for a new national sevens coach.
SRU Director of Performance Rugby Graham Lowe confirmed yesterday that the union had begun a “global recruitment process” for a new coach to replace the former Melrose and Scotland centre atop its sevens structure.
The union term it a move to “bolster” the sevens programme, however, with Shiel remaining involved with sevens, responsible for skills and analysis.
Lowe has been working behind the scenes to restructure aspects of the Scottish game and was at the centre of the surprising change at Glasgow where he moved Sean Lineen into a new role in charge of global scouting and under-20s development, and replaced him as head coach with Gregor Townsend.
The timing of this move could also be viewed as unexpected as Shiel took over from Stevie Gemmell as the Scotland sevens coach only two years ago and last season assumed control of a new full-time squad for the first time. He recently spoke of his enthusiasm for taking the new set-up forward within the constraints of a country where few professional players are available for sevens, and improving the team’s performances and results over the next year.
The Scottish side had struggled in the IRB World Series this season, failing to reach any cup quarter-finals, and Shiel only just managed to steer a relatively new squad into the 2013 World Cup tournament last weekend, needing a plate final win over Italy to grasp the last of five European qualifying spots for an event first staged in Edinburgh in 1993. Gemmell was also at the qualifiers in Portugal as the SRU’s Head of Player Development along with team manager John Manson.
The quality of opposition has undoubtedly risen and the SRU appear to still be at a crossroads as to how best to compete on several international fronts with a relatively small pool of players. Lowe insisted that Shiel had not been demoted as a result of those results, but this move is clearly a fresh attempt to plot a clear path forward to strengthen sevens in Scotland as part of a more concerted bid for success at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014 and rugby’s heralded return to the Olympics in Rio two years later.
He explained: “Since the decision was taken to re-admit rugby to the Olympics with effect from the 2016 Games in Rio, the emphasis being placed on sevens by countries worldwide has been phenomenal.
“We are very proud that the game invented in Melrose is now such a catalyst for the global expansion of rugby union and we are determined that Scotland should be competitive in international sevens, especially with the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow on the horizon, where sevens will be one of the core sports.
“As part of our ongoing review of sevens and having discussed with the sevens management team, we have decided to bolster the group.
“Our current coach, Graham Shiel, will remain with the sevens management group, focusing on skills and analysis, and we are now looking to recruit a head coach and programme manager to work alongside Graham to drive forward our sevens programme and the performances of the national sevens team. This will be a global recruitment search to ensure we get the best candidate for the role.”
The move is part of Lowe’s efforts to strengthen the development of rugby from schools and clubs up to pro and international level, and he believes that sevens remains a valuable tool in that development process, especially with the professional, full-time training outlet of just two teams in Scotland.
The squad for 2012-13 had already been selected and named in May and included three more youngsters earmarked for full international honours, in common with a core purpose of the squad. Alex Glashan (18), Chris Dean (18), both from Edinburgh Academy, and Neil Herron (17) of West of Scotland step up for the first time, alongside Rory Hughes, who earned his first sevens cap in London a fortnight ago, and join players coming in on two-year full contracts, Loughborough Students captain and scrum-half Russell Weir (22) and Moseley back row Michael Maltman (21).
Scotland’s leading sevens player of recent times, Colin Gregor, remains along with Andrew Turnbull, two Scottish players who do rank as world-class sevens exponents, with wingers James Fleming and Mark Robertson, and forward Struan Dewar, while club players such as Lewis and Gregor Young from Jed-Forest are primed for part-time involvement throughout the season.
It is unclear whether the new coach appointed will have the power to change that squad selection when he takes over, and whether indeed the squad will remain as a development tool with many of Scotland’s leading sevens players tied up with the professional teams and unavailable for sevens action or taking a different route.
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