AS ONE of the most competitive seasons of club rugby builds to a climax, the pressure is also mounting on the SRU to break a glass ceiling in the sport and use the knowledge of club coaches.
Eight clubs head into battle this afternoon with their eyes firmly fixed on the RBS Cup after Ayr clinched the league title for the second time last weekend. Ayr are now seeking their first league and cup double, with Stirling County the visitors to Millbrae this afternoon, while Selkirk prepare a hot reception for their Border rivals Melrose at Philiphaugh, Currie host Dundee HSFP and cup holders Gala make the trip north hoping that their good fortune in narrow wins over Aberdeen GSFP does not run out at Rubislaw.
Ayr coach Kenny Murray is as determined as ever to bring more silverware back to Millbrae, but he shares a deep frustration with fellow club coaches at the lack of opportunity to help to develop what is arguably the biggest weakness in Scottish rugby: the professional game.
“I am really looking forward to this weekend,” Murray said. “The boys partied well after Saturday’s win, but they were beasted at training on Tuesday night so the focus is pretty sharp again ahead of Stirling’s visit.
“Now that we’ve got the championship, and our place back in the British and Irish Cup, everyone at the club is looking at the double. For me, it’s been very enjoyable working with the players and staff at the club. I’ve got no intention of walking away yet. But, I have to say that it is demoralising to constantly hear that, no matter how hard you work and how successful the club might be, you’re not good enough for the pro game. I would love to apply for a job with Edinburgh next season and use the knowledge I have of the Scottish game, the skill-set built up over 18 years coaching rugby, managing people and developing the sport across Scotland, to help to drive the pro club forward, but what’s the point?
“Most of us have tried and failed, told by the [former] director of rugby Graham Lowe that your only hope of becoming a pro coach is to leave the country, which sickens you. We have a great game, with talented players and coaches, but we don’t have a system of developing them to their optimum and, sadly, I don’t see that changing.”
Murray’s comments are not new, spoken recently by Craig Chalmers who heads south to Chinnor this summer and Ian Rankin, who is stepping down after ten years at Dundee. As Glasgow Life’s senior sports development officer, Murray manages around 70 managers and development officers in five different sports, yet the SRU are concerned that he may not be able to handle 40 or so pro rugby players on a daily basis.
In the capital, Currie’s Ally Donaldson, a former Scotland A fly-half, was one of the first professional players in Scotland before going on to coach Currie to their first two championships and cup finals over the past decade. His day job is ‘Director of Rugby’ at George Watson’s College and he is concerned that younger coaches are reluctant to become head coach at a top club when there is no sign of it leading to a proper career opportunity. Edinburgh’s replacing of Michael Bradley and Billy McGinty this summer, therefore, is a fresh opportunity to release a pressure-point in the game.
“To become a professional coach is not the reason I coach,” he said. “I have a fantastic day job where I coach rugby and love the time I have with Currie.
“But, club rugby has to be a platform for players and coaches to learn and develop in Scotland, and progress. If the SRU appointed a top club coach to an assistant’s position with Edinburgh for next season it would be massive for the game, because it would suddenly provide a key motivation currently lacking for young, talented coaches to get involved in club rugby.
“We have people with the talent and ambition to coach at the pro teams. Kenny has learned the trade at Cartha and Ayr and been successful with both, Simon Cross is a coaching talent who has come through Penicuik, Murrayfield Wanderers and now Edinburgh Accies and I worked with Boroughmuir coach Fergus Pringle with the Scotland club side and he is another outstanding coach. But the SRU has to provide opportunities.
“I’ve nothing against coaches coming from other countries. I want our pro players to have the best coaches. But sometimes in Scotland we are guilty of being too hard on players and coaches. We have quality here. It just needs the chance to develop.”
Dominic McKay, SRU director of commercial operations, communications and public affairs, said: “We want to bring Scottish coaches on and we have made a positive step. We are looking forward to getting as many applications for roles at Edinburgh as possible. It is a big step going from club to professional rugby, but do we need to do more in terms of coach pathway development long-term? The answer to that is ‘yes’ and we are tackling that positively at the moment.”