SRU Chief Mark Dodson calls on Michael Bradley to ‘sort out’ Edinburgh
EDINBURGH’S woeful start to the new season has provoked ire within Murrayfield’s board room, but SRU chief executive Mark Dodson has insisted that he remains behind Michael Bradley and the current coaching team.
Head coach Bradley has watched his side slump to seven defeats in their opening nine matches, including embarrassing reverses in the Heineken Cup which effectively ended their interest in progressing in the European competition with four pool matches to play. Coming against a backdrop of fresh success last term, in reaching the Heineken Cup semi-finals and spending an extra £1.2m on the squad over the summer, with Neil Back also hired as a new forwards coach, such a start has inevitably brought a new level of pressure.
Dodson did not shy away from it in a media briefing yesterday at St Andrews, where he met with the Scotland coaching team as they begin preparations for the EMC Autumn Tests and opening match with New Zealand a week on Sunday.
“Clearly, we are disappointed with the Edinburgh performances, particularly the Heineken Cup,” he said, “but there is a league issue as well. I was very disappointed with the manner of the Saracens and Munster defeats as much as the scores.
“We’re shipping far too many soft tries and we’ve made it clear to the players and the coaching group that we need to sort it out.
“We have certainly missed out on improving our stock in Europe, but, in terms of rebuilding Edinburgh and taking it forward, it’s a long-term project and this is just a fork in the road that we didn’t need to take. I feel for the fans more than anybody. The fans were getting behind us and they just didn’t deserve that. The players know it and the coaching group know it, and it’s my job to allow them time to come up with the solutions.”
Bradley signed a two-year contract when he took over at the capital club last summer and so would ordinarily be looking to open negotiations on a new deal in the next couple of months. That may have to wait, however, until he begins to put the team back on a winning path. Edinburgh came close at Murrayfield on Friday night, but a penalty four minutes from time by the Scarlets’ Wales stand-off Rhys Priestland snatched a 29-28 victory for the visitors.
Dodson may not have chosen his words brilliantly, having agreed that the head coach was under pressure, only to say that there was no reason to release him, but he did suggest that Bradley would be given longer than this season to effect the improvement Dodson expects with the increased funding. “I don’t see any reason why Michael won’t be there,” the chief executive said, when asked if Bradley would still be at Edinburgh at the end of the season.
“Michael has to take responsibility for this, which he is doing, and he’s working hard with the other coaches to make sure that we can turn the situation around, and I thought we saw an improvement against the Scarlets. But when you’re giving away soft tries it’s very difficult to come back and take points away from the game.”
The defeats are clearly having an impact on player confidence on the field, and is starting to affect attendance figures, but Dodson accepted that there was also a negative impact off the field heightened by the interest Edinburgh generated last season.
“It’s about missed opportunities rather than hard cash. When you’re on a winning roll, people come to you with cash and I think we’d have got more sponsors on board if we’d had a good start to the season. We’re doing very well off the pitch – the business club is growing and we’re bringing in new sponsors all the time – but I think we missed an opportunity with Sky.
“Sky were prepared to highlight our games from Murrayfield and that’s not going to happen now, and that’s about exposure. If you have the panel in Murrayfield doing the whole afternoon from there you feel that it’s the best game, the central game of the afternoon. We have always suffered from the fact that that has not been the case with Sky because it concentrates on English, Welsh and Irish clubs. We got them to that point last season and were getting them close this season, so that’s a missed opportunity.”
Another reason why the expectation has grown has been the extra funding that Dodson has directed towards the pro teams. That is a change of priorities, with Dodson and Lockhead having stated clearly that they wanted to put rugby back at the heart of what the SRU do, and reverse a trend towards cutting the pro teams’ budget in order to save the SRU money.
Instead, Dodson has sanctioned a rise from £3m to £4.2m for player budgets, which takes the SRU total spending on the pro teams to around a third of the union’s income. It has risen during the season too, with more than £500,000 extra being released to Glasgow to stem their prop injury crisis and sign Tongan Ofa Fainga’anuku on a short-term deal and New Zealander Sean Maitland through to May, 2015.
“We had a choice,” said Dodson. “To keep playing without props or bring someone in, and to keep the season going we had to make sure we had the right playing base.
“We brought Sean Maitland in as a different issue, a completely different player. We’ve been looking at Sean for two years and, if he became available last year or next year, that would have been an extra on top of that [club budget]. We [the SRU] pay all the player contracts, but, yes, that is on top of the budget that Glasgow had [and does not affect existing contracts].”
Dodson insisted that Maitland’s signing was not the start of an avalanche of overseas players descending on Scotland, but added that he does expect and hope for more of a similar calibre of player to Maitland being persuaded to head to Scotland. He pointed to the appointment of Sean Lineen as a new ‘chief scout’, with a remit to find players of Scottish origin, and ‘project players’ who can become Scots-qualified after three years in the country, as a crucial part of the SRU’s drive to make the professional teams stronger and the national squad more competitive, but with the hope that it also inspires players born and raised in Scotland to reach higher standards.
“Players like Sean, especially Scottish-qualified, come up very rarely,” he added, “but it is exactly what I said would happen with scouting when we created the role.
“There are plenty [Scots-qualified players being tracked] and if we see another player like Maitland we’ll try to make a case to the board to bring that player in, because world-class players are few and far between.
“Our stated objective is to stock the pond with top-class players and then we should have enough players through to increase the organic growth of Scottish players.
“But you know that in certain positions we have issues, and if you can bring someone of Sean Maitland’s pace and power to bear in a Scotland shirt you have to look at it.”
Glasgow supporters have welcomed the signing of the Crusaders wing, who has turned his back on the All Blacks after just missing out on the squad in the past two years, and, while ‘project prop’ Willem Nel is just beginning to find his feet in the capital, there is little doubt that Edinburgh supporters would be happy to see more signings like that of Tim Visser, in particular, to help their side recover lost ground and re-ignite hopes of success in the RaboDirect and Heineken Cup.
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Friday 24 May 2013
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