SRU facing challenge to fill Lowe’s high-performance job

THE Scottish Rugby Union’s bid for a vibrant new future for the sport in Scotland will again come under pressure at the end of this year when they have to replace director of performance rugby Graham Lowe.

The SRU came under fire in the latter years of chief executive Gordon McKie’s leadership when the chartered accountant was criticised for concentrating on reducing the union’s massive debt to the detriment of the playing side.

Much of that stemmed from his refusal to make a key rugby appointment at director level, and then, when he did, refusing to allow that individual any real influence in running the game.

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New Zealander Lowe was appointed in 2009, but had become disillusioned before McKie agreed to leave the chief executive’s office in 2011. Lowe stayed on and, under McKie’s successor Mark Dodson, began to put in place changes in the structure of Scottish rugby from the club through academy and age-grade set-up, and in the development of youth players. He also championed increased investment in the two professional teams and made the controversial move to replace Sean Lineen as Glasgow Warriors coach with Gregor Townsend.

However, at yesterday’s SRU board meeting Lowe confirmed he is quitting to become high performance manager with the Western Bulldogs Aussie Rules team, based in Melbourne, Australia

The 41-year-old is motivated by a desire to move his young family back to the southern hemisphere and will remain in post until after the EMC autumn Test campaign in November.

The SRU stated that a worldwide recruitment search will now begin for a successor who, it hopes, will be in post by the 2013 RBS Six Nations Championship.

Lowe said: “It is with some regret that I will be leaving now as much has been put in place to ensure Scotland retains and builds on its place and heritage in world rugby. However, after five years on the road it is a good time to take my young family back south and the opportunity of moving into Aussie Rules with the Western Bulldogs will be exciting and challenging.

“I particularly wish to thank the staff at Scottish Rugby for all their hard work. I wish them every success in the future.

“There is much to be proud of and the future looks bright with more and more talented players being developed at all levels.”

Dodson added: “Graham has played a pivotal role in the development and improvement of our high-performance rugby teams. The insight he has brought on what it requires to be successful at the highest levels of the game has been invaluable.

“His understanding of performance planning has helped to shape our strategy for the next few years, yet what has endeared him most to a variety of people in the game in Scotland is his ability to put the player and individual improvement at the heart of his philosophy.”

A former New Zealand Rugby Union and All Blacks 
fitness, strength and conditioning coach, Lowe joined the SRU from the BMW Oracle Racing team that competed in world-class yachting events including the Americas Cup and the Louis Vuitton Trophy.

During McKie’s reign he used national coaches Frank Hadden and Andy Robinson as rugby advisers and there were persistent concerns about the lack of a figure overseeing the bigger picture of rugby, from youth, schools and clubs up to the pro teams and the national sides.

Jim Telfer was the SRU’s first director of rugby and Ian McGeechan took on the role, but it was left vacant from when he returned to English rugby in 2005 until Lowe joined in 2009.

The question is whether Dodson will look for an experienced figure to oversee the development of a sport which still needs work at all levels, someone with ideas to drive forward each tier of the game, or stick with a high-performance strategist?

Much will depend on how much he is prepared to invest in the role.

Current Scotland coach Robinson hopes the SRU will find someone at least capable of building on Lowe’s work. He said: “I have thoroughly enjoyed working with ‘Lowie’ over these last three years. He is a fierce competitor and knows what is required to be the best.

“It’s now vital that we build on the foundations that he has laid through his leadership.”