Rugby: SRU happy to back Bradley’s rebuilding

Izak van der Westhuizen

Izak van der Westhuizen

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Scottish Rugby chief executive Mark Dodson insists Edinburgh Rugby now have the ingredients to compete on league and cup fronts – thanks to the transfer acumen of coach Michael Bradley.

Edinburgh have been highly active in the market with the latest incomer being Izak van der Westhuizen, a South African second row who joins compatriot and prop forward, Willemus Nel.

Others arriving are All Black centre Ben Atiga, Georgian back rower Dimitri Basilaia, Welsh caps John Yapp (prop) and Richie Rees (scrum half) as well as backs Greig Tonks and Michael Penn, and forward Perry-John Parker from the English club scene.

Among those shipped out are Scots Phil Godman, Jim Thompson, Kyle Traynor, Andy Kelly and Alan MacDonald while Chris Paterson has retired and Mike Blair has turned down a new deal.

Dodson, pictured below, said of re-shaped Edinburgh’s future under coach Bradley: “We have been buoyed by the belief the guys have shown at the highest levels in Europe. The Rabo Direct form (Edinburgh finished 11th out of 12) was unacceptable. Michael knows that and the team know that. But you have to balance that against the energy and focus we had in Europe (semi-finalists).

“We have to be competitive all year round and not just in one competition or the other. The squad wasn’t deep enough this year. Michael inherited that and has taken steps to rectify it and we support him. The signings are Michael’s. The decisions about changing the squad over are entirely his.

“It takes two seasons really to get the absolute squad you need.

“For the first time in history to be in the semi-finals of the Heineken Cup was a fantastic benchmark. The style of play and the winning strategy has been remarked on by many.

“Edinburgh just need to be more consistent.”

Even in the wake of the European success, Dodson refused to be pressed on whether it was right to open talks with a view to extending the contract of Bradley, who has never shied away from the fickle nature of professional sport.

Indeed, Bradley would be the first to recognise the importance to that Euro run of a late Phil Godman drop goal to beat Racing Metro in a sectional tie while the reciprocal leg saw these same opponents fail narrowly with a similar attempt by Juan-Martin Hernandez which would have won the game. The Irishman did, though, take Edinburgh to new heights and earlier this season was believed to be on the radar of former club, Munster.

But Dodson insisted: “We are very happy with Michael. He has a period of time on his contract and when the appropriate time comes we will be talking to him.”

One of Bradley’s biggest attributes so far has been his ability to bring through rising stars among whom Tom Brown and Matt Scott are heading off on tour with Scotland. Grant Gilchrist, Harry Leonard, Robin Hislop, Alun Walker, Robert McAlpine and Stuart McInally are others who have made strides while Lewis Niven earned a new contract before injury struck and Jamie Farndale debuted in the concluding league fixture alongside Steve Turnbull, finally free of a damaged ankle.

Dodson declared: “What’s happening in Edinburgh happened also in Glasgow where there was an opportunity for young kids to come through because we had internationalists away.

“They have actually stood up and delivered and it is amazing when you give young players a chance what they are prepared to do. We have got to be careful you don’t burnt them out or put them into territory where they are not comfortable.”

That is where the ‘foreign legions’ may come in but the development of young Scots begged the question of when a third professional team might be reinstated. However, Dodson maintained: “We are a long way from a third team and the first thing we have to do is make sure our two teams can break even.

“At the moment we (SRU) support both our professional franchises because our crowds have not been big enough and our sponsorship could have been greater. First you have to invest and reap the benefits of that investment.”

And, according to Dodson that is where Scottish rugby ambassador Chris Paterson comes in.

“It would be crazy to lose someone of Chris’s talents and attributes. The man is a legend in Scottish rugby. It would be foolish to let him go out the door. In the past too many internationalists have walked away from our business when they can perform a role for us here.

“When Chris goes into a school or a business meeting he attracts attention.”

As for a new stadium for Edinburgh, Dodson refuses to be rushed: “We would like Edinburgh to have a new stadium but we are in the hands of many people including developers.

“We are in the foothills of dealing with that – much further on with Scotstoun (Glasgow’s new home).

“If we can get a new stadium that would be fine but it is not something that is going to divert us from investing in the clubs.

“We are really making strides but being humble about that; we are changing the face of Scottish rugby.

“The national team have had some reverses. And there have been some reverses in club rugby. But we’ll get there.”