SRU led by the mouse that roared

IAN McLauchlan never had the reputation of shirking confrontation on the pitch and as the latest political contretemps in Scottish rugby plays out, it looks increasingly as if the ex-Scotland and Lions front row forward will have a major role in using the second - and final - year of his presidency to shape a better future for the game.

Whether executive figures currently running the game come on board remains to be seen, for it is the view of some that McLauchlan is embroiled in trying to rein in power so as to give clubs a greater say once again.

But what is certain is that ex-team mates who know McLauchlan portray a figure with a firm grasp of what direction he wishes to move in as well as being a thoroughly straight shooter.

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Ex-team-mates like Al McHarg, a fellow Ayrshireman who played alongside the 43 times-capped McLauchlan for most of his own 44 Scotland caps gained between 1968 and 1979, says: "Ian is a very straightforward guy in relation to knowing what is right and wrong. If he took a view in terms of the way Scottish rugby was run that view would always be very clinical.

"He is someone who really understands the game.

"I don't know what is going on (within Murryafield) but I would expect Ian to go forward with proposals that benefit Scottish rugby whereas, with some people I have known in administration, the first thought has been about themselves.

"He is a very, very straight guy and I would back his view almost, but not quite, unconditionally."

In a recent interview, McLauchlan insisted he was standing for a second year as president because he had unfinished business and he will be returned unopposed at the SRU's annual meeting on June 25.

For that situation to arise, though, one other potential candidate had to back off, having originally gone to the trouble of seeking proposers and seconders and obtaining the requisite documentation.

The Evening News can reveal today that individual to be Ian Barr, respected president of Lasswade.Speaking for the first time about his decision to pull out of the presidential race Mr Barr, a Midlothian farmer, said the decision was in part due to not wishing to be perceived as challenging McLauchlan, whose initial year of office he regards as successful.

"It was more a case of dissatisfaction over a league reconstruction issue that made me take steps towards standing for the presidency," said Barr, adding: "I, along with Greenock Wanderers president, Dougie Sloan, spent a lot of time and energy canvassing support so that there was no regionalisation below National League Division One.

"I wasn't particularly happy with the way a working party was going and took the trouble to speak to 30-40 clubs operating at all levels."

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In comments that hint at why there is unrest within the game, Barr added: "I felt clubs were being mislead. I took a lot of stick for being a trouble-maker.

"Looking back it was a knee-jerk reaction to attempt to become president, a role I wasn't ready for in view of what I still want to achieve with Lasswade, but for a time I did want to stand for some sort of office with a view to making a difference until pulling out of a contest at the 11th hour.

"I'm not one of those who take the view the president of the SRU should always be a high profile ex-internationalist but I have a lot of respect for Ian McLauchlan."

Mr Barr says that if McLauchlan is at the forefront of plans to re-empower the clubs, then that is something that needs to happen.

"We have to look at Scottish rugby because things are not right. There seems to be too many people in there who aren't interested enough in fighting to grow the clubs.

"I could be slightly off the mark but that view has found a lot of echoes and before things get better there has to be an acceptance that you grow from the bottom up; that way the talent supply line will start to flow again."

If the professional teams have to be seen as a product of a healthy game rather than a raison d'etre, the climate in which Edinburgh and Glasgow operate has been attracting widespread condemnation from the way in which injured players were allegedly deemed surplus to requirements, a lack of marketing and the way fans were banished from a traditional hospitality suite.Nowhere has condemnation been stronger than of decisions by the present administration in scrapping the traditional car park socialising on international days to abolishing walk-up ticket purchases.

SRU chief executive Gordon McKie was unavailable for interview but in a recent radio programme he defended his policies by saying that Scottish rugby's governing body is "unique" in Scottish sport, while drawing an intriguing comparison with our country's football authorities.

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Responding to a question put to him on behalf of an Edinburgh fan re-considering taking up another season ticket to watch a team being used for developing the Scotland side, he said: "The priority is both. We want teams to be regularly winning but provide a platform for people who can play for Scotland.

"It has to be both but getting the balance right is extremely difficult.

"It's difficult to please everybody when you own two professional teams .?.?.

"The comparison is a bit like the SFA if they owned, for example, Hearts and Rangers .?.?. we are a very unique governing body and what we are trying to do ultimately is ensure we have a winning Scotland team."

While stressing commitment to all areas of Scottish rugby, saying "we allocate more to the domestic and club game than ever before", McKie then was adamant the international game comes first.

And what that surely boils down to is whether you believe international rugby is the icing on the cake, or the entire cake, in which case when Scotland are winning everything, the sport becomes more palatable.

The alternative? Soul searching, angst and more angry debate, which seems a high price to pay for the absence of a properly structured domestic game spread throughout the country, especially when internationalists would still be free to return, as advocated by former Scotland World Cup captain Colin Deans.

Deans wrote on the Scottish Rugby blog: "If I was playing today I would look to play outside Scotland. The likes of Munster, Leinster and Ospreys can beat our teams with their second string, but there are too few places with two pro teams."

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"Take (Mark] Bennett. Full marks to the lad. He played one game in the Magners League and still decided it was better for him to join an academy.

"He wants to go to France to a country where the coaching structures will be much better for youths. It is probably a better education for young professionals. More young players should take such a chance because Scottish rugby is too cosy.

"We need change. We need new blood. Those at the top had a chance to turn things round and they haven't."

Despite all that, Deans believes Scotland can do well in the World Cup: "Scotland will have huge support and we stand a chance if we play rugby. We've shown at Twickenham that England's game plan isn't perfect, and we should have beaten Argentina in 2007 if we'd played for more than the last ten minutes."

In the stands will be McLauchlan, who earned his nickname Mighty Mouse with a winning try for the Lions against the All Blacks in 1971 and that is fitting, said Barr.

"In World Cup year in New Zealand it is appropriate for Ian McLauchlan to be there," he said. In some areas of Scottish rugby, at least, harmony exists.