Rugby: Win-at-all-costs approach hurting Scots development

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The ripples from Scotland’s uniquely early rugby World Cup exit ahead of the knock-out stage today found echo back in the Southern Hemisphere.

Australia-based former Edinburgh district scrum half and Musselburgh official Fraser McMillan has used social networking to call for urgent fine tuning at grass roots to produce future Scottish stars – and cites an example of where matters started to go wrong.

Says McMillan: “When I was Director of Rugby at Musselburgh six years ago we had a player selected for the FIRA (European) under-19 competition and the club were delighted.

“Alas, while the player went off to France full of hope he was an unused substitute which I found very disappointing both for the lad and the wider Scottish rugby community.

“I wrote to the SRU and received no response while the Edinburgh Evening News published an abbreviated version of my letter the gist of which was ‘are we as a nation so good that we can afford to take 25 players on a tour at under-age level and not play some of them’?

“Have we such strength in depth that they know our player (and many others besides) will never make it?

“I am fed up looking at junior age groups and being faced with coaches that must win at all costs. It’s all about development.

“My letter was to ask the SRU to review the key performance indicators (KPI’s) within which the coaches of the under-age sides are measured.

“One of them has to be how many kids go on to the next under-age group. Who cares who wins at U19 level? It’s all about the bigger picture.

“It’s evident from the scarcity of World Cup tries that Scotland have not produced a player that can create something from nothing, a talent the like of which most nations in the top ten have on tap.

“Our player, with the right guidance, could have gone all the way. He was comfortable at scrum half, stand off, outside centre or full back with immense natural ability but slipped through the net not being 6ft 1n tall and 17 stone.

“I said then: ‘I am truly fed up with the SRU and the way they are running our game, something has to change, something has to change quickly’.”

Having predicted a rocky road ahead speaking from ‘Down Under’ today McMillan claimed, with the benefit of being able to observe from a distance, he still believed at top-level Scottish rugby was punching above its weight but lower down the scale improvements were essential.

“We missed the boat big time when rugby went pro – a whole other story – because we should have invested in grass roots massively but didn’t.

“However, what we continue to do from mini to senior school, to colt, to 1st XV at club level and then all the representative stuff, 15,16,18-21 right up to national side level is fundamentally wrong. Who cares who wins these matches – only the kids playing, and that should be it? They are competitive enough and don’t need encouragement from over-zealous coaches, etc.

“Assuming the paid coaches in the SRU have identified a shortage of genuine stand offs, centres and back three players let’s encourage the schools and prominent colts teams to mould a few backs and let them know what is in short supply now and five years on. This would mean direct, open, communication with our supply lines.

“Musselburgh roll up to Murrayfield from time to time for the youth final as a town hoping to win. It’s great if we do, but winning is a by-product of the performance/development of kids. It really doesn’t matter. It matters that the club first team win only.

“It’s so competitive for kids with coaches/dads wanting them to win, the point is lost.

“It is much more important that the kids are taught about performance and development than winning.

“Backs should be rotated positions. Here in Australia some of the world’s greatest, including Matt Giteau, Berwick Barnes, Stephen Larkham and Joe Roff have played several positions at international level.

“I love Scottish rugby, sponsor two players at Musselburgh and my old club are the first result I look for each weekend. But I sense, even from afar, things need to change.”