Rugby: Bob set on a return to rebuild pro game

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Former Edinburgh Rugby owner Bob Carruthers today signalled his intention to return to the professional game in Scotland, citing “unfinished business”.

The 50-year-old movie and music mogul – his latest production is entitled Zombie Driftwood – has told the Evening News of plans to form consortia who will approach the SRU with bids to run not just Edinburgh and Glasgow, but restore the game to its original pro format with teams in the Borders and Caledonia.

Carruthers’ previous involvement ended acrimoniously after a year in August 2007 but today he insisted: “I’m daft enough to want to give it another go – and I know others are out there prepared to invest.

“If the SRU are willing to relinquish control then entrepreneurs will come in to build the pro game even though nobody ever went into Edinburgh previously looking to make money.”

Carruthers claims to be motivated by the sight of Scotland slipping below Tonga in the latest global rankings and failing to make the quarter finals of a World Cup for the first time.

“We are about the only country where things have gone backwards in terms of the number of people playing the pro game,” says Carruthers.

“What has to happen is the SRU free themselves from the financial burden of running teams. First, the SRU have to be prepared to let go.

“If they are prepared to relinquish control we can take things forward the same way that rugby is organised in England, France and elsewhere.

“The SFA does not own football clubs and nor do the RFU own rugby teams in England.

“It’s got to be the goal to bring in outside finance to take the pressure off the SRU and allow their money to go to the clubs.

“What I am planning should be easily attained and we are just beginning to start the process by setting up meetings.

“Clubs are franchise holders of the SRU and they should benefit from it. It’s a longterm vision and a very simple one – but it is going to require a change in thinking.”

Carruthers, a Fifer, played down conflict with previous chief executive Gordon McKie, who was ousted earlier this year with his right hand man, finance director Eamonn Hegarty, leaving more recently.

“I’ve moved on,” he said. “The original plan [when rugby went professional in the mid 90s] was to have four districts funded by outside investors and I remember big crowds turning up at McDiarmid Park, Perth, to watch Caledonia Reds while there was a successful four team inter-district tournament.

“Hopefully the people now running the game are more receptive than the previous administration whose cost cutting policy I understood.

“However, rugby has suffered and it is vital we bring back Caledonian Reds and the old South district team because closing a team in that heartland was tantamount to criminal.

“In the last few years I have taken in matches at the likes of Gloucester, Northampton and even Worcester, where there is a fantastic culture for rugby. The Bath experience is brilliant and Edinburgh is capable of supporting a team to the same extent. It’s a pity there is no longer somewhere like Powderhall to host matches but I’d want to look at Meggetland as a first step towards creating a professional club in Edinburgh that has a proper heart and soul.”

So far as the pro game in Scotland is concerned, a clock is ticking as a European Accord governing entry to cross-border events expires in 2014. At the moment both Edinburgh and Glasgow enjoy automatic entry to the blue riband Heineken Cup but sources insist that this is likely to be challenged by clubs elsewhere forced to qualify.

Also, emerging countries such as Georgia, where pro rugby has been a resounding success, are clamouring for increased exposure to the second tier tournament. “It’s absolutely essential that by 2014 we have sorted out the professional game in Scotland as we are going backwards in terms of World Cups,” said Carruthers.

In his first major interview after quitting Edinburgh in 2007 Carruthers told the Evening News: “When rugby is in your blood it is hard to walk away. But all the power north of the Border is concentrated centrally right down to ownership of competitions. It works because Edinburgh fans will accept players being withdrawn to prepare for Scotland matches.”

Today, Carruthers claimed that co-existence between club owners and a governing body responsible for running national teams should be easily attainable. “There’s an international accord that covers the right to use players and provided games are structured properly there shouldn’t be a problem.

“There’s no reason why the two can’t co-exist but you can’t have the governing body showing a dictatorial attitude.

“Things are at the early stages but I’m writing to the SRU and hopefully we’ll be talking soon.

“I’ve got unfinished business.”