THE Scottish Rugby Board came out fighting last night with a resolute defence of its chief executive, Gordon McKie, after his integrity was questioned by the owner of Edinburgh Rugby, Bob Carruthers, and the Aberdeen businessman, Graham Burgess.
Carruthers, who entered into a franchising arrangement with the SRU for Edinburgh last July, has been at odds with the Scottish Rugby Union for the past week over the closure of the Borders team. And as the SRU moved last night to back its chief executive, further pressure was applied on the union when the Border Reivers Action Group and the Scottish Borders Council took out a full page newspaper advert to mobilise protestors, describing the scrapping of the Borders "as one of the most misguided and unpopular decisions in the history of the game".
The advertisement calling for protestors to gather at Murrayfield on Friday night appears in The Scotsman and the Edinburgh Evening News today, and immediately raises the stakes just as the SRU has tried to bring the matter to a close.
Last night's statement from the SRU, in response to recent media coverage, and in particular one article in Scotland On Sunday, said that the Murrayfield board has issued "unanimous support" to McKie and went on to re-iterate and expand on the union's reasons for announcing last week that the Borders pro team is to be axed. The SRU statement claims: "The article included allegations by Mr Bob Carruthers, owner of Edinburgh Rugby Ltd, and Mr Graham Burgess which the board believed potentially called into question the integrity of its chief executive, Gordon McKie."
Carruthers has claimed that McKie told him last September that the Borders would almost certainly be closed down. Carruthers then made a proposal to take over the Borders team, but it was rejected by the SRU the very next working day on the grounds that one person could not control more than one team under International Rugby Board rules.
The Scottish Rugby Board underlined its unanimous backing for McKie's role in the scrapping of the Borders by issuing full support for his "handling of all expressions of interest made by third parties in seeking to buy one of Scottish Rugby's three pro teams".
The Board went on to reiterate its support for the review of professional rugby in Scotland, which began in January and the publication of which spelt the end for the Borders. The review's findings argued that the pro game has failed here due to gross underfunding in comparison with other northern hemisphere rivals.
The SRU has also made the fresh claim that the recent departure of several senior players to clubs in England, Ireland and France has been partly caused by the lowly status of the Scottish professional teams.
The Board stated: "Senior players in particular do not want to be associated with failure or mediocrity. They want to be part of a squad that has a chance to succeed on the field. They want to play with good quality players in a modern, atmospheric stadium, with the benefit of good training facilities and be part of a set up that offers everything associated with a successful club.
"No Scottish club in the past decade can claim to have afforded all these criteria."
The upshot is that the heavily-in-debt SRU believes that by cutting one team the other is afforded more opportunity to be successful.
"Rather than have two wholly owned teams that will struggle and always be concerned about how a lack of funding may affect their long-term future, the Board concluded the right decision was to concentrate resources into the Glasgow Warriors," said the statement.
Despite the SRU's best efforts, it appears that the argument is a long way from being over. The Border Reivers Action Group has called on rugby supporters from throughout Scotland to attend the rally at Murrayfield before Friday's Magners League match between Edinburgh and Newport Gwent Dragons. Transport to Edinburgh from the south is being laid on by Scottish Borders Council. It also calls for support of the rescue plan put in place by Graham Garvie, the SBC councillor who has resigned from the board of Edinburgh Rugby Ltd to focus on trying to save the Reivers. The content of his proposal will be revealed on Thursday.