Rugby: New president makes youth a top priority

NEW Scottish Rugby president Ian McLauchlan will be taking a particularly close interest in reviving the fortunes of the national under-20 side during his term of office.

The former Scotland and Lions prop, who was installed during Saturday's annual meeting at Murrayfield, made it clear that he would favour a hands-off approach, saying: "Anything I would do I would do through Andy Robinson (coach) or Graham Lowe (performance director) because these are the technical boys and to say something that may be contrary to what they are saying is undermining them and I don't think that's right."

At the same time, McLauchlan endorsed priorities set out by chief executive Gordon McKie when he talked of the need to re-examine Scottish Rugby's strategic plan, the fortunes of the under-20s and the positioning of the national academy set-up within the game.

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Aware that recent world championships brought heavy defeats for the Scots youngsters against Australia and South Africa, McLauchlan said: "We can't have these boys going out there every week being thumped. It's all to do with money because England, France etc can afford to bring these boys in to work with professionals and pay them. We can't. It's a simple fact of life.

"The under-20s we have got we have to bring them close to the professionals and it may be a case of instead of picking them up aged 17 we pick them up at 14, 15 or 16 or whatever the experts tell us. But we have to do it early."

Some of the extra revenue McLauchlan feels must be found for development could come from seven-a-sides.

"We have to make up our mind about where we position sevens. There's a lot of money coming into international sevens because of Commonwealth Games and various other events.

"We have to be in there to get some of it for development."

Although a former PE teacher turned successful businessman one area where McLauchlan might be expected to have specific expertise as an ex-front row forward concerns the damage being done to rugby's spectacle by collapsed scrums.

Again McLauchlan, nicknamed "Mighty Mouse" is keen not to overstep what he sees as primarily an ambassadorial role.

"Privately I might speak to Andy Robinson but scrummaging issues can be sorted out quite quickly and there weren't many collapses during the second Test between Scotland and Argentina recently," he said.

That series victory has helped put Scottish rugby on a firmer footing internationally with a world ranking of seven.

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Domestically, there are still concerns that the structure is faulty and these remain despite a motion calling for more regionalisation of the lower leagues.

Many delegates appeared to have heavy hearts in voting down a scheme proposed by Crieff and seconded by Preston Lodge that would have cut travelling amid suspicions that it will not be long before many ideas put forward would be adopted.

Afterwards Euan Thayne, one of two PL spokespersons, said: "Our motion was a bit too complicated. Hopefully we can work through the process with the SRU for next year. Overall there was too much to take in.

"We included things like financial clauses and the reserve leagues when the original plan had been to vote on individual matters.

"I'm sure, though, that in two or three years there will be changes.

"When I started playing you travelled the length and breadth of the country willingly. The younger players today don't want to do that."

Significantly, claims by Scottish Rugby bosses concerning increased playing numbers struck a chord with Thayne, whose club have dropped from a position in the top flight around 25 years ago out of the premiership to the national leagues.

"A couple of years after I entered senior rugby we lost our youth team," he said. "Now Preston Lodge have re-built and will have teams at P4 right through to under-18s again."

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The three-hour meeting also heard Gordon McKie defend staff against claims that they have failed to implement last year's calls for an integrated schools/youth league.

"You can't force schools to play against people they don't want to play against," he said, while also calling for support in arguments for more coverage by the national broadcaster.

"We need you to do all you can to help us," said McKie.

"On Thursday there is a debate in parliament and if you happen to bump into your local MSP let him know."