Sri Lanka comparison is stark reminder of Scotland's scarce rugby playing resources
At least 12 of the current Rugby World Cup squad did not come through the traditional domestic or exiles system and the quest to uncover prospects with a granny from Dundee is no laughing matter, especially when the national under-20 side is struggling to produce players who can make the step up to the senior team.
Gavin Vaughan is Scotland’s lead performance analyst and as well as providing detailed dossiers on opponents, his remit includes finding those with Scottish qualifications who could potentially make a difference to Gregor Townsend’s team. There are gems out there and you only have to look at the impact Huw Jones has had to see the value of applying a forensic approach to talent spotting. The outside centre was on a gap year in South Africa, playing club rugby, when he was picked up by Western Province and the Stormers. The fact that he had been born in Edinburgh and spent the first couple of years of his life in Scotland alerted Murrayfield. Forty-one caps and 16 Test tries later, Jones is an integral part of Townsend’s backline.
“I’m always looking and chatting to different people,” said Vaughan. “It could mean cold calling someone or trying to track someone down who a friend of a friend has told me has got a Scottish mum or dad or even a Scottish-sounding name. Some are successful and some are not but I’m constantly on the lookout because we are a tiny rugby nation. We need to grow our own and we are growing our own - there are a lot of guys here who have come through the system. But we also have to be smart and look outside as well because there are more rugby players in Sri Lanka than there are in Scotland.”
It’s a sobering remark and although up-to-date statistics are slightly sketchy, the pre-Covid figures from World Rugby state that there were 46,050 registered players in Scotland and 59,509 in Sri Lanka.
Vaughan’s main task this week is analysing Scotland’s next two World Cup opponents as Townsend’s side seek the wins over Romania and Ireland that could open the door to the quarter-finals. While Romania are the minnows in Pool B, Vaughan has identified threats in their backline, most notably centre Jason Tomane, who is the younger brother of Australian international, Joe, and Hinckley Vaovasa, the stand-off who also plays at full-back. “He’s got great footwork and he could cause us some problems, especially the way they attack with him in the backfield,” said Vaughan.
Ireland will be a different challenge altogether but Vaughan is hoping his experience with the 2021 Lions in South Africa will give his some insights into the Irish players who were on tour. “It was a great experience for me to go on that tour and get to know them personally and work with them in detail. You get to know what they need in their preparations, knowing what they are looking for in their defence and stuff like that. So I’ll be dropping a few nuggets this week, for sure. Every little thing counts in these big games.”
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