SRU AGM: Scottish rugby needs fresh faces

THE traditional bacon sandwiches were still on offer even if the setting was less familiar.
Lockhead: historic funding packageLockhead: historic funding package
Lockhead: historic funding package

For the second year in succession the Scottish Rugby Union moved their AGM from Murrayfield to Heriot Watt University’s Riccarton campus. Not far enough, according to the delegate from Cambuslang who wants it moved to Glasgow and beyond. Something needs to change, because delegate numbers are falling sharply… despite those bacon sarnies.

The overall mood was relentlessly upbeat, as well it might be. The European Cup has been sorted to (almost) everyone’s satisfaction and the money should exceed that of the old European Rugby Cup. The SRU unveiled a record turnover of £43.7 million and while that number was in part thanks to a 13-month period (due to a change in accounting dates) it is still a big jump from the £33.6m that was posted in 2009/10.

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The money paid out to the (amateur) clubs will reach £3m in the coming season, up from £1.9m just two years ago. A new semi-artificial pitch has been laid at Murrayfield. Most importantly, Scottish Rugby has secured what chairman Sir Moir Lockhead called “the most significant funding package in our history”.

It’s a big claim, but not one anyone can reasonably take issue with. The BT deal which saw the naming rights for Murrayfield sold for what was rumoured to be a cool £20m is a game breaker. It was stunning deal, even if BT’s shareholders may not necessarily agree. After a couple of decades fretting about the SRU’s debt mountain, Sir Moir was able to state that it will be gone “in the next few years”, which would free up an extra £400,000 that had previously gone on interest payments. As it is the average debt fell from £11.1m to £10.2m.

Not unnaturally, the chief executive Mark Dodson was in ebullient mood, announcing a new “Club Sustainability Fund” of £1.6m over four years which will be used to improve the infrastructure of the clubs, “especially below the Premiership level”.

The Premiership clubs themselves will get £100,000 for medical/strength & conditioning, £160,000 for areas of sustainable administration and an additional £125,000, money that was set aside to help clubs compete in the British and Irish Cup, which the Scottish clubs have pulled out of this coming season. Incidentally, Dodson suggested that Scottish clubs would be back in Europe in a new cross-border tournament that the SRU are attempting to set up for season 2015/16.

In addition, the four regional academies will be supported by funding of £1.2m per annum, with an agreement already reached with Aberdeen University to host one academy in the north.

Women’s rugby is getting a revamp, and not before time, and English referee Dave Pearson is joining Murrayfield in an effort to get someone (anyone) on to the international referee’s panel.

There was a hiccup when the delegate from Moray House scratched a long-running itch about the long-promised Scottish Rugby museum. Sir Moir assured him it was on its way but, as the elderly delegate pointed out to much laughter, both he and the SRU were fast running out of time!

The big screen in the hall regularly flashed up “most successful season ever”, but this claim only holds water if we ignore the on-field stuff, which Dodson admitted was “mixed”. Scotland were plum awful in the Six Nations and Dodson was put on the spot about these failures, although the delegate was too gentlemanly to point out that the Scottish rugby boss had targeted winning next year’s World Cup.

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Edinburgh may be improving but it is from a desperately low level, which quickly became apparent when the video showing highlights of the season was aired. While Glasgow could boast an appearance in the RaboDirect final, average attendances north of 6,000 and a record number of 10,000 fans for that awesome semi-final against Munster, Edinburgh revealed that 135 kids “enjoyed an experience day”. Exactly.

Ian Rankin stepped up to become the new president, with incumbent Donald Macleod a hard act to follow. Ed Crozier was elected vice president ahead of Euan Kennedy by the narrow margin of 77 to 70 and only after a second vote.

Elsewhere every motion on the agenda was proposed by the SRU and every one of them was carried with the required two-thirds majority. I am sure that the delegates all knew exactly what they were voting on. It also suggests a much increased level of trust in the game’s governing body than in the recent past.