The SRU: Mighty decisions
NEW SRU president Ian McLauchlan yesterday outlined his role within the Murrayfield hierarchy, which is to "act as a conduit" for the country's rugby clubs.
"Basically I need to get round a few clubs and find out where they're coming from and what they want from me," he said at the Union's AGM at Murrayfield yesterday. "It's my job to make sure the clubs feel they're strongly represented on the Council."
The former British Lion also outlined an ambassadorial role which will ensure that Scottish rugby's voice is heard in the international corridors of power. "Being able to talk to people because I've known them for years, helps," he said. "I'm on the Lions Trust at the moment so I do know a lot of people in the international game. We're a very small country on the periphery of the game so we need every single strand of our game to be pulling together to maximise our influence."
It was more mundane domestic matters which were the main preoccupations of yesterday's meeting, however. After opening presentations, including that of chief executive Gordon McKie, who outlined an increase in turnover to 33.6m and an across-the-board increase in crowds, plus a decrease in the overdraft to less than 15m and a rosy outlook for Scotland under coach Andy Robinson, the meeting quickly turned to the main business of the day. This was the much-trailed motion from Crieff and Strathearn and seconded by Preston Lodge and Kinross, which called for a shift to more regional rugby, with just two national leagues instead of the current seven; leagues of ten instead of 12 teams; and reserve teams playing in the pyramid league competition.
After the two national leagues, the next 24 teams would be split into east and west leagues, with the rump below that playing in three regional leagues, based around the west, east and Caledonia region. Such changes, said Shona Brash, the president of Preston Lodge, are desperately needed by clubs unable to afford huge travel bills and by players struggling to find the time to travel large distances. She highlighted the plight of Caithness, whose players travelled over 6,000 miles last year. She said that the current system is threatening the well-being of many clubs.
A succession of speakers lined up to agree with Brash. "The situation at the moment, where we have games well into May every year, makes the running of rural clubs such as ourselves completely impractical," said Newton Stewart's Gregor Christie, adding that almost half the country's clubs are in some form of national competition.
McLauchlan noted later that as the president of Islay Rugby Club, for whom an away fixture involves two days off the island, he understands the clubs' concerns. Yet he also said that "I'd never have wanted to play in a regional league because I was a country boy who'd never been to Aberdeen or Hawick, while the big cities were a complete revelation to me when I was young. I wouldn't have missed out on that for the world. Besides, my wife never bothered when I went out of the door as long as I eventually came back, even if it was the next day."
That seemed to encapsulate the mood of the meeting, with several speakers acknowledging that the league structure needs addressing, but arguing that the long and detailed proposal contained so many changes that it could not be implemented in its entirety. Aberdeenshire's Gordon Farquhar spoke passionately about the need to stymie a motion which he referred to as "geographical apartheid". There was, he said, "a need for a level playing field" so that smaller clubs outside the central belt had a chance to take on the top established clubs. "Instead, what we're being told is that clubs like mine shouldn't be allowed to play with the big boys," he said, before adding that it was suspicious that these changes were being mooted by clubs in a division to which Orkney had just been promoted.
The all-encompassing nature of the motion proved to be its undoing. When Jim Fleming stood up and opposed the motion on behalf of the Union's Board and Council, arguing that it should go through the season structure working party he chairs, he struck a chord. Despite an apparently widespread feeling that some form of change is necessary, his promise to look at the issue before December seemed to swing the debate and the motion was overwhelmingly rejected.
Those in favour of change will be back next year, but by then their task won't be any easier. Thanks to motions passed yesterday, not only will every suggestion need to have ten seconders (as opposed to one), but it will need a two-thirds majority to be adopted.
At least there was one man who left happy. For as many AGMs as anyone can remember, George Russell from Moray House has called for the establishment of a museum of Scottish rugby at Murrayfield. Finally, the Union's chairman, Allan Munro, agreed that he will endorse a cause which is clearly close to Russell's heart.
So now Scottish rugby will know where it's been, even if opinion is sometimes split on where it is going.
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Thursday 20 June 2013
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