The hard work in laying the foundations has been done and the BT Sport Scottish Rugby Academy system is poised to push on and produce top quality players for the country, according to one of its regional chiefs.
It is a year since the SRU officially launched its new youth development programme, with 95 of the nation’s most promising male and female rugby players based in Aberdeen, Cumbernauld, Edinburgh and Galashiels. Already nine have “graduated” and moved on to professional contracts – four with Glasgow (Ali Price, Nick Grigg, James Malcolm, Scott Cummings), two with Edinburgh (Lewis Carmichael, Jack Cosgrove), Andrew Davidson with Newcastle Falcons, Robbie Fergusson with London Scottish and Ross Graham with Yorkshire Carnegie.
The head of the Edinburgh academy, Graeme Beveridge, reflected on a busy year getting things up and running and is confident things are heading in the right direction.
“Looking back on the first year I think we’ve done a tremendous amount of work,” said the former Scotland scrum-half. “We’ve started to see a lot of improvements across the board and the word from staff in all the centres is that things are running a lot more smoothly. Certainly from a logistical point of view, getting things up and running, we’ve done a lot of the hard work.
“The players are working well. It’s now a case of reviewing what we’ve done and maybe tweak things here and there in terms of going forward.
“The implementation stage is done, we’re in our facilities, the players are in place and now it’s a case of looking forward and building on a good start.”
The summer series of matches between the regions got under way in Lasswade on Wednesday evening, with Edinburgh under-20s beating their Caledonia counterparts 23-10 and Glasgow overcoming Borders/East Lothian 43-0. The under-16, under-18 and under-20 competition, which sees local youngsters integrated with the academy players, will culminate with a finals day at BT Murrayfield at the end of August.
“The programme worked really well last year and here in Edinburgh over the last three weeks we’ve had five or six sessions for players in the three age groups, under-16, under-18, under-20,” explained Beveridge. “We invited circa 45 players into each. So having 100-odd boys running about at Sighthill working with really good coaches has been great. The climax of the finals at BT Murrayfield brings a competitive edge to the summer and gives them some really good rugby to lead into the club and school calendar.”
Edinburgh ran in four tries (three converted) from Malcolm Jack, Ally Davidson, Robert Kay and John Grant at Lasswade, to the two unconverted efforts in response from Caledonia’s Shaun Gunn and Mathew Fagerson.
In the second match, Aaron Tait registered a hat-trick for Glasgow, while Walker Graham, Ryan Sweeney, Ruairidh Sayce and Peter Burns also scored tries.
Beveridge and his fellow academy chiefs will be using the series to decide who will make the next tranche of inductees. He said: “We are monitoring players across the summer and will start meeting in August to discuss who can be part of the new intake in September.”
The Edinburgh academy is home to half of the 16 female players who have been included in the system and Beveridge was full of praise for how they have taken up the challenge.
“The girls are a fantastic group,” he said. “They are really driven to work hard and improve.
“We’re starting to see some real gains from them, not just on the park but off it in terms of their physical conditioning. It’s been a slower process as some of them have come in with less training history than the boys but they’ve really bought into the programme and trained really hard.
“Hopefully having been in the programme for a year they feel they have a real good base to push on working towards the World Cup qualifiers, working with Shade [Munro, the Scotland women’s coach] and his team, and slot in there to perform at that level.”