NO SCOTLAND side has ever beaten New Zealand at any level in rugby so there was no shame in the Under-20s’ nine-try, 68-10 battering by the Baby Blacks at the World Cup in Italy earlier this week.
It was, however, another reminder of how far Scotland lags behind the top countries in terms of producing and developing young talent. The SRU hopes that the four regional academies being put in place will help close that gap.
There is no class divide in our game. The only class we want to see is on the pitch. We don’t care where people go to schoolSRU chief executive Mark Dodson
The Edinburgh BT Sport Scottish Rugby Academy was launched yesterday at its new base – Napier University’s Sighthill campus – and SRU chief executive Mark Dodson accepted that Tuesday’s result in Parma illustrated the job at hand.
“This is what happens when you don’t do anything for 15 years and everyone else has had something for 15 years. You are playing catch up,” said Dodson.
“In the first 20 or 25 minutes against New Zealand we were as competitive as we have been for a long time. But when the game breaks up you see the quality that New Zealand have – the speed and power – and we weren’t able to live with that.
“That is probably the best Baby Blacks side for a number of years and we had a fairly torrid time in the second half, but it was a learning experience for these boys. If you ever needed an example of why we need this, that was it.”
The Edinburgh academy is the third to be confirmed, following similar launches at the Aberdeen Sports Village and Broadwood Stadium in Cumbernauld, with the final one in the Borders expected soon. They will be up and running later this year, with players and staff to be announced towards the end of this month.
The Sighthill campus boasts one of the UK’s leading biomechanic labs and the players and staff will have access to the university’s extensive sports science facilities and gym equipment.
“I think this is fundamentally different [to what we have done before],” said Dodson. “We have gone into this with a completely different view. In the past, we never had primacy of use of facilities, but the great thing about the BT sports academies is that we have now set these up as real development clinics for the next generation of players.
“Because we have laid money down and said this is where we are going to be for the next four or five years, we have been able to get back from the public sector, and especially Napier, real investment in the SRU. It is a fundamentally different approach.
“There are also all the other things around our players now. It is not just the biomechanics and the sports science, but the strength and conditioning and the training and coaching is much deeper and more robust.”
Of course all this has been made possible by the significant investment from BT, believed to be around £20 million.
Dodson added: “We are spending close to £1.3 million a year on academies. That is a massive investment from our point of view and we wouldn’t have been able to do it without BT.”
Roughly 90 talented youngsters, including some female players, aged from 14 upwards, will be put into the national academy system.
“The Academy management will cast the net far and wide for players,” said Dodson. “We already have filtering systems anyway but now we are going to take many more players through the system and develop them as quickly as we possibly can, male and female. We will then try to fast-track the very best. It will depend on who is there, but about 90 players [across all four areas] will go through the academy in the first year.
“It will start about that and it will build. What we’re trying to do is take a fair representation from around the country. Clearly, for example, if we have too many props in one area we will be able to move people around as we see fit and as is practicable.”
Of course, there needs to be talent out there for the academies to work with and producing a wider schools and youth strategy to improve the current fragmented and uneven status quo is something the union is expected to outline soon.
“We have to live with what we’ve got here,” said Dodson. “We’ve now got the schools and the clubs playing competitively for the first time in a generation. We have to bring a coalition of the willing together. We’ve done that now, so our schools competition will get more intense and more competitive.
“There is no class divide in our game. The only class we want to see is on the pitch. We don’t care where people go to school or what they do. But what you have is a system where the established [private] schools in Scotland have the best facilities and the best access to players and who sometimes take state school players on scholarships.
“You can have a view on that, but who am I to stop a parent whose kid has been offered a chance to go to Strathallan or to Watson’s? Who are we to say that shouldn’t happen? It’s not something we can get involved in. My view is that we’ve got to give every kid in state schools a chance to have the same opportunities that they have at private schools.”
The Edinburgh academy will be headed up by former Scotland scrum-half Graeme Beveridge.