Rugby clubs reject call to delay new youth leagues

THE first vote of yesterday’s SRU annual general meeting could be measured in feet and registered clear approval for a return “home” to BT Murrayfield after two years at Heriot-Watt University’s Riccarton campus.

Frank Hadden made impassioned plea. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Frank Hadden made impassioned plea. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

A large gathering of 189 club delegates – a hefty increase on last year’s attendance – pitched up at the home of Scottish rugby to reflect on a year in which another robust financial performance on the back of the BT sponsorship was sweetened further by success at pro-team level, with Glasgow Warriors’ Guinness Pro12 title triumph and Edinburgh’s run to the European Challenge Cup final the subjects of slick video montages punctuating the proceedings.

The “unacceptable” Wooden Spoon in the Six Nations was acknowledged but national head coach Vern Cotter, who was in attendance, was given warm support and encouragement as the squad head towards the upcoming World Cup in England.

Sign up to our Rugby Union newsletter

The only contentious aspect came when an attempt by Glasgow Hawks, seconded by Cartha Queens Park, to delay the implementation of proposed changes to the structure of youth and schools competitions until a full and proper consultation is undertaken was defeated. That reorganisation now goes ahead at the end of the month with 11 club and schools conferences, plus a Borders inter-town competition.

Hawks, who have opted out of the system, were one of the clubs who have taken issue with the fact that an aspect of the new structure is that young players must play for school or club, but not both. Bob Coats, the head of junior rugby at the Old Anniesland club, pointed out that a conflict would arise for around 75-80 per cent of their playing pool.

“It is not in the SRU’s gift who plays for who. Young players shouldn’t be asked to choose,” said Coats.

However, that position was challenged by Stirling County vice-president Lorne Boswell, who said it would be “crazy” and cause “chaos” to back the motion for delay at three weeks’ notice of the first fixtures.

Former Scotland coach Frank Hadden, who has been working behind the scenes to put the new system in place, made an impassioned plea for the SRU’s policy to be given a chance.

Hadden, who enjoyed a successful spell as head of rugby at Merchiston, said: “I have had an interest in this for 20 years. I’ve seen many strategies put forward but nothing that hits the mark like this. It’s time to stop trying to create something out of nothing. We need to grow the numbers and size of our rugby cultures and have a competitive and structured vehicle to drive up participation and standards.”

Hawks’ motion gained some support in the hall but was well defeated by a show of hands and Ian Rankin, who chaired the meeting in his last act as SRU president, said: “We would not put a policy as important as this in place and just park it. Of course we will be measuring it and if tweaks are needed, tweaks will be made.”

Ed Crozier was ratified as the new president and the motion to increase the terms of president and vice-president to two years from 2016 was overwhelmingly approved.

Rob Flockhart of Boroughmuir will be the first beneficiary of that two-year presidency after he won a very close contest with Lasswade’s Ian Barr in the election for vice-president by 96 votes to 92.

The motion that no competitive adult fixtures be scheduled for the day of Scotland home games in the Six Nations, unless both clubs agree, was carried.

Chief executive Mark Dodson made a well-received speech highlighting the successes of the past year, in particular Glasgow’s title win, but urged: “This has to be more than a happy spike in success. There must be consistency.”

He also revealed Scotland’s intention to bid to host the 2021 Women’s World Cup.