Scottish Rugby gets into bed with Italy in bid to improve player development

Scottish Rugby is to go into partnership with Italy in an attempt to improve the development of their younger players.

Scottish Rugby is planning greater cooperation with their Italian counterparts. (Photo by ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP via Getty Images)
Scottish Rugby is planning greater cooperation with their Italian counterparts. (Photo by ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP via Getty Images)

Grave concerns have been raised over Scotland’s player pathway programme on the back of a wretched run of results for the national under-20 side which saw them lose 14 matches in a row.

Italy, by contrast, have been flourishing at under-20 level, beating England, Scotland and Wales in this year’s Six Nations.

The SRU is hoping to tap into the Italian success with player exchanges and cooperation at age-grade level. There may also be scope for involvement in Super6.

The SRU is signing a young player development agreement with the Italian rugby federation. (Photo by ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP via Getty Images)

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The recent appointment of Franco Smith as Glasgow Warriors coach has aided the agreement. Smith left his role as head of high performance with the Italian federation to take the Glasgow job.

“We are in the process of signing a young player development agreement with the Italian rugby federation which will see greater cooperation and opportunity between our two countries at U17, U18, U19 and U20 levels for both men and women,” Scottish Rugby chairman John Jeffrey told the SRU agm.

“Having recruited Franco Smith, who is acknowledged to be the architect of much of the improvement in the Italian age-grade system, we should see this cooperation and an ever greater focus on home grown and Scottish-qualified talent begin to deliver the kind of performances that we know our stakeholders expect.”

The young Scots, under new coach Kenny Murray, took the wooden spoon in the U20 Six Nations and then finished bottom of the heap in the U20 Summer Series in Italy, losing to Wales, Italy, Georgia and Ireland.

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New Glasgow Warriors coach Franco Smith is the architect of much of the improvement in the Italian age grade system. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)

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Jeffrey said the fault lay not with Murray and the players but with the governing body.

“We acknowledge that our results in this area have been unacceptable. We knew that changes had to be made some time ago and we created a new management structure for our age grade programmes which is only just bedding in.

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“We suspected that things would get worse before they got better yet the performances in Italy fell well short of what was expected of any Scotland team.

“This is absolutely not the fault of the young men in the squad nor Kenny Murray who came into the role just weeks before the start of the Six Nations.

“Our performances at this level have always been inconsistent but Covid restrictions have also played their part. The suspension of the U17 and U19 programmes during that period in retrospect denied our upcoming players the opportunity to have meaningful matches and sufficient time together, for which we take responsibility.

“We got a lot of things right during Covid, but we could have definitely done better in this area.”

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The SRU will hope the Italy agreement yields more than its partnership with US team Old Glory. Mark Dodson, the SRU chief executive, revealed that $1 million had been spent on the Washington DC-based club over two years and that the investment had now been “written down”.

The wider financial picture was more encouraging, with the return of crowds seeing annual turnover at £57.9 million.

The agm ratified Colin Rigby’s appointment as the new SRU president, with the Stewart’s Melville member succeeding Ian Barr. Keith Wallace of Haddington was elected vice-president, beating Hazel Swankie of Dunfermline by 85 votes to 49.

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