Mighty Mouse out to be Scots' enforcer again

IAN McLauchlan is no stranger to confrontations with Scottish rugby's governing body so the idea of him becoming the new public face of the SRU will, undoubtedly, shock many.

Take your pick from being battered black and blue in Argentina as a newcomer to international rugby to publishing an autobiography that earned him a 'sine die' ban from the sport he loved when he finished playing in 1980; from attacking the union in the columns of tabloid newspapers of the 1980s to arguing for better deals for players in the new pro world with hard SRU officials of the 1990s, and all punctuated with regular criticism of the management through the first decade of professionalism.

'Mighty Mouse' claims he has not lost the passion that marked him out as that archetypal Scots warrior on the rugby field, the small man who punched, often literally, well above his weight. So, what is the 67-year-old doing putting himself forward to be the face of the Scottish Rugby Union as its new president?

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He is seeking to replace Jim Stevenson, whose day job as an "enforcement manager" at Glasgow City Council would seem to vie perfectly with leading the SRU in recent times, and who stands down as president of the Scottish Rugby Union in June after the maximum two years in the role. He replaced another 'club man' in George Jack after a year, who had followed on from the first new-style 'ambassadorial' president, Andy Irvine.

McLauchlan would mark a return to the Irvine mould, the legendary former player known worldwide, but with little real involvement in the game these days; the ambassador role envisaged in the new governance structure rolled out in 2005. In fact, Irvine was a key figure in persuading McLauchlan it was now time to start shouting from the inside.

"The seed was planted by Andy," McLauchlan reveals. "He wanted me to do it – I don't know why. He said he had done as much as he could and people like me should go in and do my bit. I thought he was joking because I haven't been involved in the game much, other than through charity work.

"I was supportive of Jimmy (Stevenson] so I said last year I would not stand against him, but now that he's standing down I've spoken to a few people, been round a lot more clubs, and people think it would be a good idea to put my hat in the ring. The more I've thought about it, the more I think I could make a difference.

"When I was in South Africa for the Lions tour last summer, I met people from other unions and there was talk about things that should be happening in the game but weren't, about how they needed strong figures to influence things.

"I have been critical of Murrayfield in the past, but things have changed. We are in a position now where the business side of things is pretty stable, the rugby side is coming up and maybe it just needs that extra something to push it onto another stage.

"I'm not kidding myself. The president cannot make wholesale changes. You are in for a year, and while you want to try and do something worthwhile, you can't be changing everything. But maybe it's time I do what I can to help us along, from the inside as it were."

Now 67, McLauchlan has been retired for four years, but his Ian McLauchlan Associates business was always closely involved with rugby. They sold corporate hospitality, staged the first pop concert at Murrayfield (David Bowie), helped to bring RBS into Scottish rugby as sponsors and advised on marketing and sponsorship, not always with the union's full blessing it has to be said.

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That last area is something the current union are in need of help with now, but McLauchlan's services have not been called for in some time by successive SRU regimes. The SRU officials also have no say in who becomes president; that is a vote for the clubs. There is still a month to go and there are some murmurs about other figures entering the race, but McLauchlan is the sole candidate at this moment in time and how he knits into the SRU's executive will intrigue many.

Stevenson successfully pushed a change to the structure last year that made the president automatically chairman of the Scottish Rugby Council and so have a seat on the board, should he wish those roles, and it is likely Scotland's clubs will soon be asked to consider re-instating the post of vice-president to provide some support to and learn from the president.

McLauchlan insists he is not concerned with governance and, in fact, is not bidding to enter on a ticket of change at all. He is more concerned with influence, and a perceived lack of it for Scottish rugby at the top tables around British and European rugby. That is undoubtedly fuelling support for him, the thought of the 43-times capped Scot and eight-Test veteran of winning British and Irish Lions tours to South Africa and New Zealand in 1971, pitching up for Scotland. That and the fact he still refuses to take a backwards step.

He does sound mellower though, insisting: "I don't think they (the SRU] need to change much radically. We need unity; we're getting everyone pulling in the right direction. Rugby is growing in certain places across Scotland. There is a lot of work going on across Scotland and in some places they are getting reward, in others they are not yet.

"But I think there has been a recognition and growing up in the sport; recognition that there is not money to burn. I also sense a tremendous goodwill in the game in Scotland and we need to maintain that and build on that.

"I don't really know Gordon McKie (SRU chief executive], but he seems a reasonable enough man and I think he's done a good job. His job is to run the business; my job is to be the ambassador for Scottish rugby – two totally different jobs. If I am elected I would like to sit on the board because I think it's imperative that the one elected official in the whole set-up knows what the hell is going on, but you need to have the right people in the influential positions, people who can make a difference.

"I don't know who these people are in Scotland to be honest, but it has become clear that Ireland hold such a great influence over the modern game, far greater than their standing should allow, because they have strong people in there and don't shift them about, in and then out, the way we do in Scotland.

"They stay there and become more influential while we lose our voice. It's easy to criticise the union for that from the outside, so I'm putting myself forward to see for myself how we can improve our standing."

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Last night, McLauchlan was speaking at Kelso Rugby Club, and most in the audience will have had little difficulty in remembering him as 'Mighty Mouse, the player' even without the humorous tales of on-field thuggery.

In courting their vote, however, he wants them to see him more as a strong, capable administrator, yet it is clear that his philosophy on the improvement of Scottish rugby is similar now to when he first played for Scotland and then captained the team in the 1970s.

The key to a brighter future, I ask? "That's easy," he replies. "Winning. We have to win more games. The problems we've had with a lack of money, the lack of sponsorship, broadcast interest, whatever; it all comes down to not winning – Scotland, the pro teams.

"Everybody wants to go and see a winning team.

I can't be bothered with people who say it's only realistic for Scotland to be ninth in the world, or to win one or two games a season. Scotland can win every time we play at Murrayfield. We can build a fortress at Murrayfield and fill it every time; and that's the basis of everything we can do in Scottish rugby."

Now in his element, he concluded: "I've had my doubts, and criticisms, about things that have been done, but I've never changed my allegiance; never doubted Scotland should not be a force in world rugby; never thought the players were any poorer than we were.

"Pro rugby has made it difficult for us, but it hasn't killed Scottish rugby. We didn't adapt to it quickly enough, because we were only country who did not accept there was money in the game, but those dyed-in-the-wool traditionalists who banned me 'sine die' have faded into the past. Life has moved on.

"I'm retired and am probably too old for this. But there are many, many people like myself who have a great passion for the game in Scotland and that is what will keep it going and make it better again."